Mike Flanagan’s Ouija: Origin Of Evil

There’s a million and one movies out there about Ouija boards and it’s potentially a great concept but most of them are pretty shit. Ouija: Origin Of Evil, however, is directed by Mike Flanagan who in my experience has never made a film that was anything less than terrific, and this is no exception. Ostensibly a prequel to a more modern set Ouija movie that I’ve only seen a trailer for, Origin backtracks to the late 60’s where a widow (Elizabeth Reaser) and her two daughters (Annaliese Basso and Lulu Wilson) run a seance scam out of their living room to pay bills and make ends meet. One day the older daughter decides a Ouija board would be a fun idea to throw into the mix (right?) and before they know her little sister has become a full on medium for communicating with the dead and whatever else is out there, but she has no filter for letting things in and pretty soon something dark and pissed off is hanging around the house with them. The daughter’s catholic school teacher (Henry Thomas) does what he can to help them out but the decades old secret that haunts their home threatens to annihilate them all. This is a solid horror film that relies on mounting tension, the use of space, sound design and ghostly possession to scare the viewer effectively, and never cheaply like a lot of horror films do. Flanagan in my eyes is a master of the genre akin to and on the same level as Carpenter, Craven and Argento, he’s that good. His stories are terrifying but there is *always* a discernible undercurrent of humanity and character development interwoven so that we actually care when people are being terrorized onscreen. Reaser, Basso and Wilson are terrific as the mother and daughters, as I love how Flanagan has his extensive ‘troupe’ of actors he keeps recasting in new projects, they become like recognizable totems of his work and I love seeing people this talented show up time and time again in different roles. This might be a bit slighter of a film when I look at my preferences regarding his career overall, but it’s no less well crafted, unearthly and thrillingly alive as the rest in his stable. Great stuff.

-Nate Hill

Marc Forster’s Stay

Marc Forster’s Stay is billed as a psychological thriller and it’s… sort of that, but really it’s something far deeper and more metaphysical, a core concept that I can’t say much about without spoiling the whole deal and trust me this isn’t one you want ruined ahead of time, it’s that affecting. It’s easy to see why this didn’t make waves at the box office and how it left a lot of critics cold (Ebert got it, and loved it) as it’s a slow, stylish, disorientating experience that slowly reveals secrets it holds close to its chest for much of the duration.

Ewan McGregor is an NYC psychiatrist who is filling in for his colleague at a university when a distraught young art major (Ryan Gosling) wanders into his office and announces plans to kill himself a few days from then. What to do? The guy seems eerily resolute as if his fate is somehow already decided, and seems like he’s already halfway gone to the other side. McGregor’s wife (Naomi Watts) tried to end her own life once so the doctor is no stranger to these things, but something about Gosling unnerves him to his soul, especially when he tells him about voices he’s hearing, phenomena that soon leak into the doctor’s own waking perception and blur the lines between reality and… something else. Bob Hoskins is low key great as a blind colleague that he plays chess with, and watch for nice work from Mark Margolis, Kate Burton, Elizabeth Reaser, Sterling K. Brown, Amy Sedaris, Michael Gaston, Isaach De Bankolé and Janeane Garofalo too.

It’s very important that you give unwavering attention to this film if you wish to get the most out of it. Best viewed in the wee hours, all lights off and on your own, it’s a visual and auditory mood board of sounds, faces, snippets of seemingly arbitrary yet crucial dialogue and scene-to-scene transitions that are orchestrated to confuse and confound yet make sense on a cosmic level when looked back upon later. McGregor and Watts are terrific but Gosling owns the film in what is probably his great under-sung performance. We get the sense that although this guy seems lost, devastated and out of place and time that he still somehow knows exactly where and when he is, but isn’t telling anyone else a thing as it’s not their place to know… yet. The artwork for this film suggests something sketchy, scary and horror oriented but the reality, although jarring and unsettling, is something gentler, more close to the soul and spirit. Director Forster (Monster’s Ball, Stranger Than Fiction, Finding Neverland) is no stranger to deep, challenging projects and here he strives to go beyond what we’d usually see in a film like this, and make it stick. He’s helped by everyone involved including an otherworldly score composed by offbeat musical duo Asche & Spencer to make this something unique, something to Stay with you long after the credits have rolled and the sun peeks over the horizon. Haunting, dreamlike, ethereal, altogether brilliant piece of filmmaking.

-Nate Hill