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Ouija Origin of Evil: Surprisingly Perky Prequel to Horror Flop
Many will be surprised to learn that the prequel to 2014's poorly-received Ouija is actually a pretty entertaining supernatural horror that has both the story and the visuals to make it one of the surprises of the year. Taking on a retro-horror approach and taking on the classic possessed child narrative, Ouija: Origin of Evil is not entirely without fault, but is still a miles better than its predecessor.
Set in 1967, the film follows the story of Alice (Reaser); a widowed mother of two girls, teenager Paulina (Basso) and her younger sister, Doris (Wilson), who makes ends meet by working as a psychic. Making her money by performing fake séances for people who are looking to connect with the departed, Alice struggles to keep up with the bills while still trying to get over the death of her husband.
In order to try to give her business a boost, Alice decides buy an Ouija board, hoping that the new trend will lead to more customers. After accidentally awakening an evil presence in the house, though, both Alice and Paulina are shocked to see that Doris has developed the ability to talk to spirits and, in doing so, is able to help the family with the finances. However, it soon becomes increasingly clear that her newfound friends from the other side don't exactly have anyone's best interest at heart.
Providing superbly thought-out and soundly executed retro viewing – the director goes as far as inserting those little bleeps in the corner of the screen which indicate a reel change – everything about the movie, although not exactly innovative in terms of storyline and premise, feels surprisingly fresh and most important of all, engaging and entertaining as a result.
Going back to the very beginning of the story which portrays the early days of what was eventually to become a terrorising presence, the slow-build approach works and the audiences – who will appreciate the director's 1960's tinted and soft-focused visuals - are given enough time to truly sink their teeth into the story before the scares eventually kick in.
Proving that the little Damiens of this world – see Omen – don't necessarily have to be boys, little Lulu Wilson delivers a powerful and an intensely unnerving performance as Doris, though both Reaser and Basso's characters, although relatively solid, don't feel as fleshed out as their younger co-star.
Nevertheless, the girls still manage to sell the premise well and thanks to their wonderful chemistry and family dynamic, as well as Flanagan's steady hand in guiding the story to where it needs to go.
What can you say about the seemingly unstoppable force that is Nicolas Cage that hasn’t been said before? A magnet for the most troubled, muddled and just generally exasperating films to hit cinemas in the last five years, his latest work in USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage does nothing to change his fortunes.
Despite being based on one a true story that has all the makings of a war epic, the Mario Van Peebles-directed USS Indianapolis bleeds all and any gravitas and emotion out of its incredibly dramatic source material.
The story goes as thus: the eponymous US Navy cruiser delivered the first parts of the atomic bomb that would go on to devastate Hiroshima, before being torpedoed by the Japanese navy, leaving some 300 of the 1000-plus crewmen dead and the rest stranded in shark-infested waters. Said sharks, along with dehydration and salt water poisoning, leave just over 300 survivors to be rescued.
At the centre of the ensuing hubbub is Cage’s Captain McVay, who many, very unreasonably, blame for the death of the 700 or so victims – so you see, it’s a very complex story, but one that very quickly descend into and exercise on how not to make a war film.
The occasional laughable CGI aside, Cage is oddly sedate, bordering on placid, in his role – yes, the central character is possibly the flattest element of the film, while seasoned actors, Tom Sizemore and Thomas Jane, are given little to chew on in their respective roles.
While starting exactly as one would expect a war film to, the wreckage part of the film turns into cheap disaster movie, before turning into a courtroom drama in the final act. It’s a muddle of a film that fails to really drum to the beat of McVay’s potentially brilliant arc as a firm commander that eventually buckles under the unjust pressure he receives back at home.
Bad CGI, a mammoth two hour-plus running time and Nic Cage can be forgiven, but what’s at the heart of this film’s mess is the script. Jumping from event to event, plotline to plotline, at a whim, with Cage’s soft murmured speech used to pave over the transitions, USS Indianapolis’s pacing is that of a film hurrying to stuff as many ideas and threads as possible – expect that’s not the case. Van Peebles tries so hard to build the layers of an epic, when, actually, all he needed to do was tell this simple but stirring story as it is.
Don’t be fooled by Shut In’s relatively intense and spooky trailer; the final product is unfortunately, everything that its trailer is not. Directed by Farren Blackburn – see Hammer of Gods - this haunted house thriller of the wearisome is-she-crazy-or-is-she-not variety finds itself completely devoid of any suspense or story, resulting in one of the most painful and unexciting movie going experiences of the year thus far.
The story is set in rural Maine and revolves around child psychologist, Mary Portman (Watts wondering how the heck she managed to get roped into this mess), who is struggling to get over the loss of her husband who was killed in a horrific car accident some time ago. Left alone to take care of their teenage son, Stephen (Charlie Heaton from Stranger Things ), who was also in the accident and was left paralyzed from the neck down and unable to talk, Mary tries to do the best she can and to go about her duties as compliantly and passively as possible.
However, the pressure of taking care of him alone is slowly getting to Mary who tries to find some sort of comfort and solace from her regular Skype sessions with fellow shrink, Wilson (Platt). Her life is soon turned upside down when one of her troubled patients, a young deaf foster kid named Tom (Room’s Jacob Tremblay), shows up at her doorstep late one night before quickly disappearing into the cold without a trace. Wrecked with guilt, Mary soon begins to see evidence of Tom in the house; unable to differentiate between reality and her nightmares, her mind soon begins to play dangerous tricks on her, forcing Mary to believe that there is something else entirely at play here.
Told with an unintentional sense of preposterousness and accompanied by an obscenely sluggish tempo, instead of concentrating on building its own story and generating genuine tension, wastes time borrowing ideas from other, better-executed films. Attempting to ignite chills and creeps through a series of predictable and terribly clichéd jump scares, the story fails to excite, offering very little suspense, energy or reason for the viewer to get invested in its characters. Even the talented Naomi Watts can’t make up for its laundry-list of problems, while Room sensation Jacob Tremblay is disappointingly wasted in his role of Tom.
While the idea may have read well on paper, Shut In’s execution is dreadfully ineffective; uneventful, boring and a total of waste of both time and talent, watching Shut In is just as exciting as watching paint dry. No fun at all.