ANNABELLE COMES HOME (2019) – Not Much of a Homecoming

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Look out behind you!  That’s Madison Iseman, Katie Sarifie, Annabelle, and McKenna Grace in a scene from ANNABELLE COMES HOME (2019).

Couldn’t she just stay away?

ANNABELLE COMES HOME (2019) is the third film in the ANNABELLE series, a series that is part of the CONJURING universe, and I have to say that the longer this series and films in this universe continue the less I like these movies.

Creepy dolls are a thing. I get that. And the Annabelle doll, which first showed up in the original THE CONJURING (2013), is a really frightening looking doll. It’s a shame that writers struggle so much to come up with good stories about it.

After that brief appearance in THE CONJURING, the film that spawned this cinematic universe and the one that remains the best in the entire series, the powers that be decided Annabelle needed a movie of her own. That film was ANNABELLE (2014) and it was pretty bad. Still, it was followed by a sequel— actually a prequel— entitled ANNABELLE: CREATION (2017), and this one was actually pretty good. In fact, I enjoyed ANNABELLE: CREATION quite a bit.

Now we have ANNABELLE COMES HOME, which takes place after ANNABELLE: CREATION and ANNABELLE but before THE CONJURING.

ANNABELLE COMES HOME begins when our friendly neighborhood demonologists Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) first confiscate the Annabelle doll from its frightened owners and agree to take it off their hands and keep it safe in the protective confines of the basement of their home, where they store all the other demonic stuff they’ve collected over the years. This is a line of thinking from these movies that I’ve never understood. I get the idea of keeping all these evil things in one place, to prevent them from harming the world, sort of a supernatural prison, if you will, but inside their own home? Wouldn’t it make more sense to amass this stuff as far away from one’s home as possible? Like maybe inside a place with concrete walls and lots of locks? But nope, they keep their evil collection locked behind a closed door in their house, which opens the door, eh hem, for the kind of devilry that happens in this movie.

Ed and Lorraine Warren were real people, by the way, not fictional characters, most famous for their investigation of the Amityville house. Ed passed away in 2006 and Lorraine just recently passed in April 2019. In fact, ANNABELLE COMES HOME is dedicated to Lorraine Warren.

Getting back to the movie, Ed and Lorraine leave their ten year-old daughter Judy (McKenna Grace) with her babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) while they go out, ostensibly to investigate the house in the original THE CONJURING, since the action in this film takes place just before the events in that first movie.

Mary Ellen is quite responsible, but her friend Daniela (Katie Sarifie) is not, and since she blames herself for her father’s death, since he died in a car crash while she was at the wheel, she longs to make some sort of supernatural contact with her dad. So, she invites herself over to the Warren house and sneaks into the secret room and in the process of snooping around, accidentally lets the Annabelle doll out of its glass case.

Oops!

Annabelle, now free, decides to make life a living hell for the three girls and unleashes all sorts of nasty demons and spirits to wreak havoc inside and outside the home, all in the hope of stealing a soul so that the demon within Annabelle can possess a body rather than a doll.

That in a nutshell is the plot of ANNABELLE COMES HOME, and as stories go, it’s not bad. I was certainly into it. That being said, I wasn’t into it for long because the writing and directing just weren’t up to the task of delivering a satisfying horror tale about Annabelle.

ANNABELLE COMES HOME was written and directed by Gary Dauberman, and although this was his directorial debut, he has plenty of writing credits. Dauberman has written all three Annabelle movies as well as THE NUN (2018), another film in the CONJURING universe and another film I did not like. Dauberman is also one of the writers who’s been working on the IT movies, based on Stephen King’s novel.

Here, I had a couple of issues with the writing. The first is with dialogue. At times, the dialogue is flat-out awful, and most of these instances involve scenes with Ed and Lorraine Warren. When they speak of demons and spirits, I just want to break out laughing. Their lines come off as phony and formulaic. The dialogue with Judy and her babysitters is much better.

Also, the story itself has a weird construct. The film opens with Ed and Lorraine obtaining the Annabelle doll, and as they make provisions for its safe keeping, it seems as if they will be the main characters in this movie. But then they disappear for the rest of the film, only returning for a ridiculous happy ending where for some reason time is spent showing Judy’s birthday party, as if that’s a key plot point in this story. I’m sorry. Was this called ANNABELLE COMES HOME SO SHE CAN ATTEND JUDY’S BIRTHDAY PARTY?

Which brings me to next problem: pacing. This film is paced terribly. The story has multiple threats attacking simultaneously, but rather than run with it and build to an absolutely frenetic climax, the story seems to want no part of this. Every time something happens, and a character seems pinned by a demon or spirit, the story switches to another character, and we follow them, while the previous character simply disappears for a while. There is no sense of building suspense at all.

For me, during the film’s second half when things should have been frightening, I was bored. And then to make matters worse, at the end, we go to a birthday party for ten minutes. So don’t forget to wear your party hat!

In spite of all this, some of the acting is pretty darned good.  Young McKenna Grace turns in the best performance as ten year-old Judy. It’s her first time playing Judy, as the character was played by Sterling Jerins in the first two CONJURING movies. Grace is very good at being the kid who’s wise to the ways of the demons and who, like her mother, has the ability to sense things about people. And if she looks familiar doing this sort of thing, that’s because she played a very similar role on the superior Netflix TV show THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (2018) where she played young Theo. McKenna Grace is only 13, but she has already amassed 51 screen credits, including roles in I,TONYA (2017), READY PLAYER ONE (2018), and CAPTAIN MARVEL (2019).

Madison Iseman is also very good as babysitter Mary Ellen, and I liked Katie Sarife even more as the often annoying but never cliché Daniela, as the character was given some background and depth, making her a bit more fleshed out than the usual characters of this type.  Michael Cimino was also enjoyable in the lighthearted role of Bob, Mary Ellen’s love interest and generally nice guy.

As for Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, they don’t fare as well. Their early scenes are the most cliché in the entire movie, then they disappear for the rest of the movie, only to return for the anticlimactic birthday party.

Another pet peeve: this movie takes place in the early 1970s, and one key sequence involves the remote control of a television set. While remote controls certainly existed in the early 1970s, they were not prevalent at all the way they are today. Most TVs were controlled by knobs or buttons on the console. Small point, but it stood out for me as not being terribly realistic.

The scariest part of ANNABELLE COMES HOME is the way Annabelle looks. Annabelle has always been one creepy doll.

And the film itself looks good. There are lots of cool looking demons and creatures, and they show up and disappear on cue, but their effect isn’t much different than the sort of thrills one gets inside an amusement park haunted house. They pop out at you and they’re scary, but that’s it.

It’s not enough because ANNABELLE COMES HOME is a movie, and as such, it is supposed to tell a story.

Writer/director Gary Dauberman seems to have forgotten this concept.

As a result, ANNABELLE COMES HOME isn’t much of a homecoming.

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

New in 2019! DARK CORNERS, Michael Arruda’s second short story collection, contains ten tales of horror, six reprints and four stories original to this collection.

Dark Corners cover (1)

Waiting for you in Dark Corners are tales of vampires, monsters, werewolves, demonic circus animals, and eternal darkness. Be prepared to be both frightened and entertained. You never know what you will find lurking in dark corners.

Ebook: $3.99. Available at http://www.crossroadspress.com and at Amazon.com.  Print on demand version available at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1949914437.

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

How far would you go to save your family? Would you change the course of time? That’s the decision facing Adam Cabral in this mind-bending science fiction adventure by Michael Arruda.

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00. Includes postage! Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

Michael Arruda reviews horror movies throughout history, from the silent classics of the 1920s, Universal horror from the 1930s-40s, Hammer Films of the 1950s-70s, all the way through the instant classics of today. If you like to read about horror movies, this is the book for you!

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, first short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For_the_love_of_Horror- original cover

Print cover

For the Love of Horror cover (3)

Ebook cover

 

Michael Arruda’s first short story collection, featuring a wraparound story which links all the tales together, asks the question: can you have a relationship when your partner is surrounded by the supernatural? If you thought normal relationships were difficult, wait to you read about what the folks in these stories have to deal with. For the love of horror!

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (2018) – Not As Fun As It Should Be

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As origin stories go, SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (2018) is okay, but that’s about the best I can say for it.

There are two main reasons why this tale of Han Solo’s early years didn’t quite work for me. Even though the events chronicled in this movie were about parts of Solo’s life not known before now, all the big parts, the stuff that happened in the original STAR WARS trilogy and in STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015), are known, and so it’s a challenge when telling a background tale about a character whose fate is signed, sealed, and delivered.  It’s a challenge that I don’t think the filmmakers handled all that well here.

And second, I never quite bought Alden Ehrenreich as Han, the role made famous by Harrison Ford.

A young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) and his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) attempt to leave their home planet of Corellia in search of a better life where Han can fulfill his dream of being a pilot, but to do so they have to escape the clutches of the evil worm queen, Lady Proxima (Linda Hunt). Han escapes, but Qi’ra does not. Han vows to return for Qi’ra.

But first Han crosses paths with Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), a thief, and they attempt to steal the valuable fuel known as coaxium for a crime lord known as Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). Along the way, Han meets and befriends the Wookie Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo). Gee, I wonder how that friendship will work out?

Han also discovers that working for Dryden is none other than— Qi’ra! What are the odds? Not very high, I can tell you that! Anyway, this convenient plot point saves Han the trouble of having to go back to Corellia to rescue her.

In order for the heist to be successful, they need a fast ship and a fearless pilot, and so they seek out Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and his ship, the Millennium Falcon. Together, this band of merry thieves set out to steal the highly explosive coaxium and sell it to Dryden so they can all get a piece of the proverbial pie. Of course, everyone and their grandmother is a thief and a scoundrel in this movie, and so no one’s to be trusted, which is supposed to be a source of fun, but that’s another place where this film does not score high.

It’s just not as fun as it should be.

First and foremost, Alden Ehrenreich simply didn’t win me over as Han Solo. Sure, he has huge shoes to fill, as Harrison Ford created perhaps the most memorable character in the entire STAR WARS franchise. But I’m not so stuck on Ford that I can’t envision another actor in the role.  I mean, I’m a huge William Shatner fan, but I like Chris Pine just fine as Captain Kirk in the new STAR TREK movies.

Ehrenreich has flashes where he nails the role. I thought his scenes with Chewbacca were very good, and he seemed a natural fit at the controls of the Millennium Falcon. But most of the time when I watched him on-screen I simply didn’t believe that this was the same man who we would later meet in STAR WARS (1977). The film features moments where Han’s hardened cynical personality takes shape, but for the most part, the story here is more interested in making sure the audience knows that in spite of being a smuggler, Han Solo really is a good guy at heart.

Trouble is, based on his actions in the other STAR WARS movies, we already know this.

Ehrenreich also isn’t helped much by the script by Jonathan Kasdan and Lawrence Kasdan. For some reason, most of the connections to the other STAR WARS movies fall flat, like Han’s line, “I have a good feeling about this,” which is supposed to poke fun at his famous line in STAR WARS, “I have a bad feeling about this,” a line that was repeated in subsequent movies. Again, the point here is to show that Han is a nice guy at this stage of his life and not yet the scoundrel he appears to be when he first meets Luke Skywalker.

But wouldn’t the better story have been to show how Han Solo became that scoundrel? We catch glimpses of these origins in this movie, but not many.

The scene where he pilots the Falcon and completes the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs ties in with a Han Solo quote from the first STAR WARS, but here, he’s already bragging about it and mentions it several times, as if the writers thought audiences wouldn’t have made the connection on their own.

The scene where Han gets his name is right out of THE GODFATHER (1972) and a million other movies where characters need to declare their name as they enter a new country, or in this case, a new planet.

I enjoyed Woody Harrelson as Tobias Beckett, although his appearance here isn’t as memorable as his appearance in two other genre series, as the villainous colonel in WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017), and as Haymitch Abernathy in the HUNGER GAME movies.

Emilia Clarke was okay as Qi’ra, although the character is very underdeveloped.  She’s made shady on purpose, as we’re not supposed to know where her loyalties lie, but the unintended result is that we really don’t know much about her. Because of this, I didn’t really care all that much about her.

Donald Glover makes for an enjoyable Lando Calrissian, although he doesn’t really add that much to the character.  We don’t really learn anything new about Lando.

Paul Bettany was solid as the villainous Dryden, but I enjoyed him more as Vision in the AVENGERS movies. Thandie Newton does well in a small role as Val, one of Beckett’s closest friends and fellow thief.

SOLO was directed by Ron Howard, and truth be told it’s been a while since I’ve really enjoyed a Ron Howard film. I was disappointed with his IN THE HEART OF THE SEA (2015), which I thought was a superficial take on the book on which it was based.  The last movie by Howard that I really enjoyed was FROST/NIXON (2008), and my favorite Howard movie remains APOLLO 13 (1995).

Technically, SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY looks fine, although at times the cinematography can be a bit dark. I thought the pacing was off as well.  The first half of the film was heavy on action and early character development suffered.  Later things tended to slow down. I thought the escape from Kessel was the best sequence in the movie.

ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016) worked as a prequel because it was a prequel to an event: the stealing of the Death Star plans, and while audiences knew what happened to those plans and how they were used, we knew nothing about the how they were stolen or about the people responsible for the daring theft.

SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY is less successful because it’s an origin story for a character, Han Solo, and while it’s interesting to learn a bit about Han’s background, it doesn’t change the fact that audiences know his fate exactly, and so it’s hard to rally around a story about a character when you how that character’s story ends. The origin tale needs to be so good you forget about the Han Solo from the later movies, and that’s simply not the case here.

ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY also worked because it was clearly a standalone film. It was all in, and the film took no prisoners. While SOLO is being marketed as a standalone movie, there are hints all over the place that a sequel is in order.

There’s also a big reveal featuring another STAR WARS character, but even that didn’t really do much for me.

At the end of the day, the biggest knock against SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY is it’s simply not all that fun. A movie about a young Han Solo should be rollicking and gutsy, two things that this movie are not, as it never seems to go as far as it should.

The result is a rather tepid origin tale.

Han Solo deserves better.

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00. Includes postage! Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

 

ANNABELLE: CREATION (2017) – Prequel to a Prequel Better Than Expected

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ANNABELLE: CREATION (2017) is a prequel to a prequel.  It’s a prequel to a bad movie which was itself a prequel to a good movie.  Huh?  Let’s try that again.

ANNABELLE: CREATION (2017) is a prequel to ANNABELLE (2014), a pretty bad movie, which was itself a prequel to THE CONJURING (2013), which was a pretty good movie. And where does that leave ANNABELLE: CREATION?  Somewhere in between.  It’s better than the awful ANNABELLE but not quite as good as THE CONJURING.

In terms of quality, it reminded me a lot of another prequel to a bad movie, OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL (2016) which was a surprisingly very good prequel to the lowly OUIJA (2014).  Heck, the two movies even share the same star, child actor Lulu Wilson.

ANNABELLE:  CREATION takes place in the 1950s, as a group of girls from a Catholic orphanage and their sponsor Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) move into a new home, a farmhouse run by a retired doll maker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and his ailing bedridden wife Esther (Miranda Otto). The Mullins lost their own daughter twelve years earlier and see opening their home as an orphanage for young girls as a way to instill some life back into their world.

The girls are ecstatic to be living in a new and very large home, but Samuel tells them that there is one room in the house that is always locked and that room is off-limits (of course.)  One of the girls, Janice (Talitha Bateman) enters the room anyway (of course, again) and immediately feels a strange presence there. She realizes it is the ghost of the Mullins’ deceased daughter Bee (Samara Lee). Janice also discovers the doll Annabelle hidden away in a closet, and she experiences a sense of dread. When Janice’s best friend Linda (Lulu Wilson) joins her in the room, she too senses evil, and that’s because there’s a demon inside the Annabelle doll that wants people’s souls.  Yikes!

The girls try to warn everyone in the house that there is something evil residing there with them, but by the time they do, it’s too late.

ANNABELLE: CREATION has a lot of good things going for it. The best part about it is that it delivers some pretty good scares and crafts some memorable horror scenes.  Credit director David F. Sandberg for a job well done when it comes to the scare department. Of course, the Annabelle doll is creepy to begin with, but interestingly enough some of the better scare sequences don’t even involve her. There’s a creepy bit involving a scarecrow, a suspenseful scene on a staircase chairlift, and yet another one in a creaky old-fashioned dumb-waiter.

Then there’s the demon. One of the more interesting parts of ANNABELLE: CREATION is that it sheds more light on the background of the Annabelle doll.  It seems that the instigator of all this evil surrounding Annabelle is a demon possessing the doll that wants people’s souls.  We catch glimpses of this demon, and he’s pretty cool looking, which is no surprise since he’s played by Joseph Bishara who’s becoming quite the expert at this sort of thing. Bishara played a demon in both the INSIDIOUS and THE CONJURING movies. He was most memorable in INSIDIOUS (2010) as the Lipstick-Face Demon.

There are lots of cool scares here, and that’s a good thing.  What’s not so good is the pacing.  There are a lot of slow parts in ANNABELLE: CREATION, lots of scenes where characters slowly move about in dark hallways, the kinds of scenes that drive me nuts in horror movies.  These types of scenes don’t build suspense. They put audiences to sleep.

And the film is just begging for a more frenetic pace during its third act.  While the movie’s conclusion isn’t bad at all, it never becomes that go-for-the-throat ending that makes audiences squirm and scream.

Director Sandberg does make full use of the creepy farmhouse interiors.  Most of the film takes place in dark rooms and hallways, and the atmosphere is sufficiently spooky and haunting.  The camera also gets in close, so much so you can almost smell the wood of the old hardwood floors.

Sandberg also directed LIGHTS OUT (2016), an okay horror movie that I wasn’t all that crazy about. I enjoyed ANNABELLE: CREATION more.

The screenplay by Gary Dauberman isn’t bad.  It tells a decent story and does a good job with its characters, who come across as real and likable.  I liked some of the reveals about Annabelle, and I enjoyed the characters, from the girls to Sister Charlotte to Samuel and Esther Mullins.  The dialogue isn’t always fresh, and the story Esther Mullins tells about what happened to her daughter is full of dumb lines and clichés.

Dauberman also wrote ANNABELLE (2014), and the second time seems to have been the charm, as his screenplay here for ANNABELLE: CREATION is much better and tells a far more interesting story than the previous film.  Dauberman also wrote the screenplay to the upcoming adaptation of Stephen King’s IT (2017), due out in September.

Talitha Bateman as Janice and Lulu Wilson as Linda are both excellent.  It was especially fun to watch them go through different levels of emotion.  At first, they’re joyful about their new home, then there’s quiet unease and building fear, and then flat-out visceral horror as the threat becomes real. And once the demon becomes involved, there’s also some icy cold evil, which Bateman does well.

This is already the third horror movie for young Lulu Wilson, as she previously starred in OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL (2014) and DELIVER US FROM EVIL (2014).

The rest of the girls in the film are also very good.

I also enjoyed Stephanie Sigman as Sister Charlotte.  She makes the nun a real person and prevents her from becoming a cliché.  Likewise, Anthony LaPaglia does the same for Samuel Mullins.  At times, LaPaglia plays things a bit too mournful, as he just sort of stares gloomily at the camera, but for the most part he does a nice job bringing Samuel Mullins to life.

Miranda Otto as Esther Mullins is in the film less than LaPaglia, and as a result has less of an impact, and unfortunately towards the end of the film she does get some of the worst dialogue in the movie.

In a small role, Mark Bramhall has some fine moments as Father Massey, the priest who drives them to the Mullins’ farmhouse and who returns later in the movie. He also gets one of the more humorous lines in the film.

The story ends with a solid tie-in to ANNABELLE.  The way screenwriter Gary Dauberman and director David F. Sandberg tie the two movies together is creative and satisfying.

I liked ANNABELLE: CREATION much better than I expected I would.  It’s a decent horror movie that rises above the muck of inferior sequels and prequels, yet it’s not quite as good or at the level of an INSIDIOUS or THE CONJURING, those horror movies that are destined to be remembered for years to come, the ones you want to watch over and over again.

I guess that would be asking too much from a prequel to a prequel.

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

 

OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL (2016) Well-Crafted But Unoriginal Retread of Demon Movies

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For some reason, there are slim pickings at the box office this 2016 Halloween season. There just aren’t a whole lot of horror movies opening this month.

One film that has opened in October 2016, is OUIJA:  ORIGIN OF EVIL (2016), a prequel of sorts to the dreadful OUIJA (2014).  Surprisingly, this film really isn’t all that bad, and it’s much better than its horrible predecessor.  In fact, the worst thing going for it is that it’s another movie built around a popular board game, in this case the ouija board.  Sure, ouija boards have been in existence long before they were marketed as a fun night in for the kids, but it’s the popular toy store version that’s the centerpiece of these movies, and as such, they do play like glorified commercials, and I just don’t like commercials.

That being said, OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL does have some good things going for it.

OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL takes place in 1965.  I’m not exactly sure why the movie takes place in the 1960s.  At first, I thought the initial 1965 setting was going to be just for the opening scene, and the rest of the film would take place during present day, but this wasn’t the case.  Then I thought that perhaps the story would tie into 1960s popular culture, but this really wasn’t the case either.  While the 1960s setting does add some charm to the proceedings, that’s all it does, unless I’m missing some historical connection to the ouija board, but I’m pretty sure I’m not.  Plus nothing of historical significance about the ouija board is mentioned in the film.  Long story short, this movie could have easily taken place today.

Widowed mom Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) runs a seance scam business with her two daughters, Lina (Annalise Basso), who’s in high school, and Doris (Lulu Wilson) who’s in grade school.  It’s Lina and Doris who help their mom with the secret effects that make their clients believe they are speaking with the dead.  And while it is fake, Alice doesn’t see their business as hurting people.  In fact, she sees it as the opposite, as she constantly gives hope and encouragement to her clients, providing them with positive messages from beyond— their deceased loved ones forgive them, they’re free from pain, they still love them, etc.

And Alice and her daughters are familiar with this pain because her husband and the girl’s father was killed by a drunk driver.  In addition to dealing with the emotional trauma of his death, they are also constantly struggling to make ends meet.

After playing with a ouija board at a friend’s house, Lina suggests to her mom that they get one to add to their act.  Alice does indeed purchase one, but unbeknownst to her or Lina, it turns out that young Doris has a heightened ability to contact spirits from beyond, and the ouija board acts as a perfect conduit for her abilities.  She attracts the attention of a sinister demon which enters her body, and the next thing we know, little Doris is quite possessed and doing all the nasty things that possessed children do.

To help combat this unwelcomed evil which has violated their family, they turn to the principal of the girls’ Catholic School, Father Tom (Henry Thomas).  The battle lines have been drawn. Let the exorcisms begin!

Actually, there aren’t any exorcisms here.  Just ouija boards.

There are three things I really liked about OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL, and combined they almost—almost!—compensate for the two major things I didn’t like about this movie.

First and foremost, OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL has some terrific acting.  Elizabeth Reaser is solid in the lead as the mother of this family, Alice Zander.    She’s sincere, she’s believable, and in spite of being a scam artist, she’s likable.  You care about her and her daughters.

As teen daughter Lina, Annalise Basso delivers an even stronger performance.  There’s a moment near the end of the film where she expresses awful grief that is as powerful and effective a moment as you’re going to see in a horror movie.  She nails it.

And Lulu Wilson is absolutely creepy as the possessed little child Doris.  In fact, she has most of the best scenes in the film, from the way she delivers her unsettling dialogue, like when she talks to Lina’s boyfriend about what it feels like to be strangled to death, to the special effects-enhanced scenes where she’s crawling across walls and ceilings.  Wilson is no stranger to this kind of role.  She played a similar part in DELIVER US FROM EVIL (2014). In that movie, she was a police detective’s daughter who also was the target of sinister supernatual forces.

Henry Thomas makes for a sincere and credible Father Tom. Thomas of course is famous for his childhood role as Elliott in E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (1982).  Oftentimes in the movies, priests are portrayed as over-the-top ministers, going on about hellfire and brimstone and saying things like “my child,” and “my son.”  Here, Thomas makes Father Tom a rather level-headed cinematic clergyman.

I was also impressed that three of the main characters in OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL were women.  While this is happening more often in the movies, it’s still not happening enough.

Which leads me to the second thing I enjoyed about this one, the screenplay by director Mike Flanagan and Jeff Howard.  Flanagan and Howard create sincere and believable characters, and so we care what happens to these folks.

And as a director, Mike Flanagan also does a nice job here.  The film looks good and captures the 1965 setting nicely.  Flanagan also gets the scares and suspense scenes right.  There are plenty of creative scary scenes, enough to make the audience jump on occasion.  Flanagan also directed HUSH (2016), a low-budget horror movie that earned only a small release which I reviewed earlier this year.  While not a masterpiece, HUSH was a very stylish thriller about a deaf woman terrorized by a violent killer stalking her isolated home.  Mike Flanagan is definitely a director to watch.

So, with all these positives, why didn’t I absolutely love OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL?

For the simple reason that I didn’t believe any of it.  Now, while Flanagan and Howard and the actors created believable characters, the story they found themselves in was not believable.  Not even close.

First of all, it’s about a ouija board.  Like most everyone else, as a kid, I played with a ouija board.  Did anything sinister happen?  Nope.  So, the idea that a ouija board packaged as a family game bought at a store is something sinister just doesn’t work for me.  Not on its own.  Could a well-written script make me believe otherwise?  Certainly!  But as strong as this screenplay was in terms of character development, no effort seems to have gone into making the ouija board stand out as a conduit of evil.  The idea by its lonesome doesn’t cut it.   Perhaps if there was something special about this particular ouija board which Alice and her family purchased, but that’s not the case here.

Also, at times, with its blatant product placement, the film plays like a glorified commercial for Hasbro.  I don’t like commercials, and so if your movie plays like one, chances are I’m not going to like it.

The other strike against OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL is that once it enters its demon storyline, it becomes a straighforward retread of films like INSIDIOUS (2010) and THE CONJURING (2013).  OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL offers nothing new in the demon department. In spite of some creative scare scenes, it’s another case of been there, done that.  

At the end of the day, OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL is a well-acted, creatively directed horror movie that suffers from its tie-in with a popular board game, the ouija board, and from the unoriginal path it takes once it enters its demon storyline.

It has its moments, but the bottom line is there’s not much original or evil about it.

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