Onyx the Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls is a film that is about as overlong as its title. It is a horror comedy that feels like it is grasping at trying to be something like Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny, though without the wit and wackiness required to pull it off. For all the ways Bowser clearly has a lot of love for this character he has created, spending almost two hours with him proves to be exhausting. The jokes he throws out, such as a recurring one about Onyx being a virgin, are never silly or clever enough to get anything approaching a laugh.
Instead, it tries to coast off of the eccentricity of him and the other quirky cast of characters that find themselves invited to the mansion of their mysterious idol Bartok the Great for a planned resurrection of a spirit. As a premise, this could work just fine as there is fun to be had in getting to know a random collection of people right before peril takes hold. In execution, the experience of Bowser’s feature debut just never has the comedic energy or cinematic spark to justify its runtime. Save for some interesting creature effects scattered throughout that deserved a better movie around them, there is nothing for us to grasp onto.
From the opening moments of the film, you basically know all there is to know about the protagonist of Onyx. He is an underdog, an outcast, and just generally misunderstood. While Bowser gives the character some greater depth and backstory, it doesn’t actually add anything new to the experience of seeing him encounter supernatural shenanigans. If anything, the joke of what made his original videos funny was premised on the spoof of the news and the wacky characters that will sometimes show up in interviews.
In a full film, there needs to be more than that. Most egregiously, the film is crying out for jokes that extend beyond just the basics of how weird Onyx and the whole situation is. You’re perpetually waiting for some sort of subversion or surprise only for the grim realization to set in that this is really all that the film is going to be. Throughout the entire runtime, it never ever manages to find a more clever comedic thread to pursue or the necessary jokes to at least keep things moving. Instead, you just see Onyx bumping into cobwebs and making odd remarks while the film slogs along.
Of course, this is hardly the first time that a film made by an online creator has fallen woefully short of coming together into something salvageable. There has been everything from the genuinely painful Smosh: The Movie creators to the misguided science fiction spoof Space Cop in the graveyard of such failed features. If anything, it shows the value of distinguishing film from Internet “content” that people will seek out and watch no matter how good it is.
Take the delightfully nasty Talk To Me, which was shown at the Sundance Film Festival along with Onyx the Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls, which was made by two former YouTubers. What made it work was that they weren’t attempting to stretch out concepts or characters from their prior videos. Rather, they made something that had its own world to play around in that wasn’t premised upon short skits that first went viral several years ago. It isn’t even necessarily that Bower’s videos were not kind of funny or at least silly enough as they were. He just has tried to take something that worked in bite-sized doses into a full movie that never finds consistent humor. Making a feature is hard enough and this only made it that much harder as it feels like it was hamstrung by lackluster material already worn thin.
All the times when Onyx says a line that was lifted directly from one of his videos may offer a jolt of recognition to those who have them already memorized, but anyone else watching will be left perplexed about what exactly he was playing at. References alone are not themselves jokes, especially when they are closed loops to past videos of this character in different contexts. Where it shifts from being baffling to annoying is when the film tries to lift from other far superior works. In particular, there is one extended sequence that is merely copying an iconic moment from the 1988 classic Beetlejuice. It doesn’t riff on it in a new way as much as it rips it off in a manner that is clunky, cringe-worthy, and miles away from comedic.
It is in its utter lack of cleverness or creativity that the persistent problem of Onyx the Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls becomes painfully apparent. Rather than offering anything new, it is all built around a previously existing character that may have worked online though doesn’t have nearly the comedic range necessary to be the center of a full feature.
Onyx the Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls debuted at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.