“Tim Daly stars in director Janet Greek's fair horror-thriller as Los Angeles attorney Jeff Mills, who rescues beautiful Miranda Reed (Kelly Preston) from being raped. As he and Miranda become lovers, Jeff learns that his new girlfriend is a witch trying to escape from an evil cult led by Aldys (Anthony Crivello), who wants to use her as a human sacrifice. Borrowing ideas from thrillers like Fatal Attraction (1987) and Tutti i Colori del Buio (1972), this borderline occult chiller co-stars genre veterans Rick Rossovich, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Stefan Gierasch, and Audra Lindley.” ~ allmovie.com
After Jeff saves Miranda from an assault, he brings her straight back to his apartment, because that’s what you do with assault victims. They look at his art collection for a few minutes, he offers her some orange juice and beer, and she offers to heal all of his pain. When she disrobes, Jeff is pretty confident that she means healing in that Marvin Gaye sort of way. To his bewilderment, however, it turns out she just wants to sit on his back and chant an incantation to draw the pain out of his body. Now, maybe it’s because they do eventually get around to Marvin Gaye’s version of healing, but Jeff doesn’t really get too weirded out by any of this. In fact, he basically lets Miranda move right in.
Look, I’m no expert, but if the complete stranger you picked up in a parking lot and brought home to your apartment can read your palm for real, she’s either a really lucky guesser… or a witch. If she can interpret the feelings of your pet black cat, it’s possible she’s a professional pet whisperer… or a witch. And if she can take a steaming hot turkey out of an oven with her bare hands, she might be a mutant with no central nervous system… or a witch. Who am I to say? But if she can do all of those things… she’s probably a witch.
Jeff doesn’t catch on this too fast, though. In fact, it isn’t until the rest of Miranda’s coven shows up and starts levitating cars that Jeff catches on. But even that doesn’t change his feelings about Miranda. I mean, women who can take a steaming hot turkey out of an oven with their bare hands don’t just grow on trees, you know. You hold onto a woman like that, even when she tells you her old coven plans on using her as a sacrifice and will kill you if you try to stop them.
(Spoiler Time!) Okay, so the main character isn’t that bright. That isn’t the biggest problem with Spellbinder, though. What the movie does really poorly is keep its twist ending a surprise. Miranda makes it clear right up front that the coven’s victim must come to the sacrifice willingly, and yet for some reason the coven insists on chasing her down and dragging her there by force. How is she a willing sacrifice if they have to drag her there?
She’s not, of course. But the guy who comes there looking for her, he’s pretty willing. Jeff ends up being the sacrifice while Miranda, who was in on the setup all along, joins hands with her witchy friends for a sing-along around the campfire. Yep, it’s pretty much a rip-off of the original Wicker Man, except, you know, without all those annoying good parts. In the end, it’s just another one of those movies in which the hero thinks he’s been doing something good, but it ends up he’s been following the villain’s plan all along.
Obviously, if Jeff had chosen to follow his Sunday school lessons instead of trying to live out the lyrics of a Marvin Gaye song, he could have avoided all of this. After all, God doesn’t play tricks like that on people.
Or does he? (Dom dom dommmm!)
In this week’s first reading, it sure sounds like the prophet Jeremiah believes God has a bit of the trickster in Him. “You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped” he cries out, “you were too strong for me, and you triumphed. All the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I must cry out, violence and outrage is my message; the word of the Lord has brought me derision and reproach all the day. I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.”
Now, Jimmy Akin has written a piece explaining the linguistics of this passage, and how the use of the word “duped” might be better translated as “persuaded,” and maybe that’s true. But I like the word “duped.” It gets across the feeling we all have sometimes that God’s plan isn’t what we thought it was going to be. We thought He wanted us to do one thing and turns out He had another goal in sight. Or we did what we know He wanted us to, but the outcome wasn’t what we expected. God might not actually dupe us, but it sure feels that way on occasion.
What do we do when we fee that way? Well, according to Saint Pope John Paul II, we should just do what Jeremiah ultimately did (after complaining a bit). Go with it and trust that things will work out how they’re supposed to. “Let yourselves be seduced by the Eternal One,” the Pontiff explained on the XXIX World Day of Prayer for Vocations, “repeating the words of the ancient prophet: ‘You duped me, O Lord… you were too strong for me and you triumphed.’ Let yourselves be charmed by Christ, the Infinite who appeared among you in visible and imitable form. Let yourselves be attracted by his example, which has changed the history of the world and directed it toward an exhilarating goal. Let yourselves be loved by the love of the Holy Spirit, who wishes to turn you away from worldly things to begin in you the life of the new self, created in God's way in righteousness and true holiness. Fall in love with Jesus Christ, to live his very life, so that our world may have life in the light of the Gospel.”