Tuesday, November 25, 2014


I found myself trapped downtown for a while and, as I often do, I wandered into a movie theater. And, when I wander into a movie theater not "my own", I marvel at how much it costs, and am not even the least surprised that people don't go to the movies any more. (One ticket was fifteen dollars! For a matinee!)

And, as often happens, I see a movie I wouldn't normally see at all, in this case Ouija, a movie that ranked only slightly higher on RT than the tragically awful Something Wicked. This is the story of a girl who plays with a Ouija board thus ensuring her doom, and that of all her friends.

As it so often does.

This is typical of the modern, slickly produced, PG-13 horror flick, Well shot, reasonably well acted, with good looking principles, a few startle shots, a twist, and a ridiculous stinger. It makes a few typical horror movie mistakes, in particular a sloppiness in "the rules" that makes it seem like things are happening just because the plot needs to advance.

Probably the most interesting thing about this film is one rather unusual mistake it makes, which I will endeavor to explain.

Genre films have certain conventions which are typically both limiting and necessary in order for the genre to hold up. For example, a mystery by nature downplays the terribleness of the crimes, because the crimes aren't the point. The point is the solving of the mystery. This is particularly necessary of the murder mystery serial, where the detective encounters corpse after corpse. Jessica Fletcher must be as perky after seeing her 200th corpse as she was after seeing her first.

Horror films come in different varieties with different conventions. Ouija may have had pretensions about being something else, but it's essentially a slow-moving Ten Little Indians (speaking of murder mysteries) as each character gets knocked off by an evil spirit.

But it's vital for this kind of horror film to shake off deaths quickly. Dwelling on the deaths of characters who, after all, exist entirely to be killed to demonstrate the growing menace takes all the fun out of it.

Friday The 13th, while not a great (nor even passable) series, typically handled this by hiding the deaths from the other characters. Other horror movies will spread the deaths around between characters who don't interact. And some approach the problem by not killing outright, but just threatening.

Ouija opens, after an initial flashback-type scene involving three of the characters as pre-teens, with one of the characters killing herself (after being possessed by an evil spirit). I didn't check my watch, but it seemed like the movie's characters spent close to the next 30 minutes grieving over the dead girl.

I mean, seriously, it could've gone into some sort of After School Special territory, so much time was spent on grieving characters.

That's neither fun, nor scary, but just sad. Then, when the next girl dies, there's no real reason for it, no narrative logic for why she gets picked, and why only her, it's just a standard issue "non-main character dies" beat.

The Boy (who wasn't with me) would probably call this a "problem with the tone".

This, combined with a sort of sloppy metaphysics, infrequent and not particularly novel horror PG-13 effects, and an unfortunate stinger, adds up to a largely forgettable flick. Not bad, exactly, just aggressively inoffensive.

Lin Shaye, who's practically become a latter day Vincent Price, has a short role in this.

Other than that, utterly unremarkable.

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