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Monday, October 24, 2016

On Modernized Vintage Horror, Scary Little Girls, and OUIJA: THE ORIGIN OF EVIL

Do you hear that? That's the sound of every American horror filmmaker running to his or her mediocre script and quickly changing the year of the setting to the 1960s--or 1970s--in order to achieve the now coveted vintage look that lately has been indicative to a successful film. It's true, 1970s horror remains the most provocative decade in the genre ever--with its examination of inherent evil, faith, and the church. So I understand the allure to recreate that now. Plus, with the box office impact of The Conjuring 2 (and the abomination that was the first Ouija film), I'm sure costume designer are raiding closets for bell bottom jeans. Director/co-writer Mike Flanagan's OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL has jumped right on board that bandwagon.

While I do enjoy the homage to great horror films from the past, I just hope Hollywood doesn't run this trend into the ground so hard it loses its flavor. But beyond all that, OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL is actually a really decent film. Does it reinvent the wheel? Not especially. But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't genuinely tense (and, yes, even frightened) at times while watching the film. (slight spoiler: characters who've been asphyxiated should never be allowed to spring back to life to torment the living any longer, but you know, horror films are always trying to take it to the next level).

OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL centers on a single mother (Elizabeth Reaser), a seance artist, and her two school-age daughters, Lina and Doris (Annalise Basso and Lulu Wilson), in 1965 Los Angeles. After the death of her husband, Alice (Reaser) has been making ends meet with a home business, albeit a scam, with the help of her daughters who are always eager to earn that extra buck by pretending to be the ghost of a grieving widow desperate to reconnect. Alice finally decides to purchase a Ouija board to further enhance her customers' experience. So, right away it's established that they're not the traditional 1960s family (though the girls do go to Catholic School--another nod to the faith element of classic horror). But, like with most horror films in which the protagonists willingly invite horror into their lives (you know the ones: where they spend a night in an abandoned asylum or pick up that bloodied hitchhiker from the side of the road), they get more than what they bargained. A real spirit, not like the ones they've been fabricating, inhabits the body of Doris. Then, all hell truly breaks lose.

As you can probably imagine, 9-year-old Doris turns into an absolute terror--complete with having the ability to a bone-cracking back bend, suspend herself upside down on the wall, and assume a super creepy old man voice. She is the embodiment of every child menace in the horror canon. But the difference with OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL is that there is no happy ending here. Things don't conclude with the mother jumping inside a scary hole to reclaim her child or a priest saving the day. None of those rules apply here. It is literally every man, woman, and child for his- or herself. Which is the refreshing part about this film and, perhaps more importantly, it revives the franchise. Thanks to Flanagan's touch, we can finally forget about the dreadful first film altogether.

Rating: B+ (***1/2 out of *****)


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