The Ouija Experiment (movie review)

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Documentary/found footage style movie about Brandon, a film student making a YouTube feature about four acquaintances using a Ouija board. They are his film school buddy Shay, her boyfriend Calvin, Calvin’s sister La’Nette, and the siblings’ friend Michael. After the group has a few too many reckless sessions with the board, they open a portal to let ghosts out, with less than happy results.

The most striking thing about the movie is the boring and endless character antics not involving the Ouija board.Calvin is a stereotypical African American guy, philandering with the honeys and quick to anger. He cheats on Shay, which takes up way too much screen time.

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Yet another time-wasting scene–she pops up to go over the rules of using the board that Michael already stated in detail

The movie’s about two-thirds over by the time the ghosts make an appearance besides off screen growling or giggling. The scene that explains why the ghosts are so pissed is blessedly objectively filmed, and is a breath of fresh air from the self-involved millennials and their narcissistic camera obsession.

The acting is acceptable, especially for such a low-budget movie.

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Behold the wondrous rainbow!

The cast is refreshingly diverse: black and Asian as well as white—though the two white guys look way too much alike. Even the ghosts are Latina.

Cliches abound, like characters saying “Stop goofing around. This isn’t funny,” and “I’ll be right back.” I had to laugh when La’Nette sees a ghost; she yells “Hell, no!” and  slams the door on it. La’Nette, easily the most likable character, is a bit stereotypical as the sassy black girl (think Brenda in Scary Movie), but not as painfully so as Calvin. As could be expected, there are face-palmingly stupid moments, like when Michael wanders up to his attic and conveniently finds newspaper articles telling the story behind the ghosts. Has he never been in his attic before? Though if he’s squatting, that would explain why a guy who doesn’t appear to have a job has such a spacious house. Or the scene when La’Nettte, intent on burning the Ouija board in the fireplace, stops to ask “Do I just throw it in?” And my least favorite, everyone says “wee-jee”–if you’re going to blatantly steal from Witchboard, at least take away the correct pronunciation of the word Ouija.

Give it a look if you’re in the mood for something unintentionally silly—the only way to watch it is with horror movie buddies you can laugh with.

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Frailty (movie review)

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Fenton (Matthew McConaughey) is telling his life story to Agent Doyle (Powers Boothe) in order to convince him that he knows who a hunted serial killer—his brother Adam—is. Through flashbacks, Fenton reveals that when he and his brother were young children, their father (Bill Paxton, who also directed) began killing people, claiming that God showed him they were demons. Fenton never believed him, but Adam is carrying on the family tradition.

The performances are outstanding, from seasoned actors like McConaughey and Boothe to newcomers Matt O’Leary (young Fenton) and Jeremy Sumpter (young Adam). Paxton overdoes it here and there, but he blows me away in the scene when he destroys his first victim; he displays how conflicted he is about killing, even after he sees what the supposed demon did. Dad (his first name is never revealed) is a compelling character. He’s hard to identify with, but he’s still so loving and seems so rational about things. As Fenton puts it, “Sometimes truth defies reason.” All of the characters are likable, and the way  the happy family falls apart is especially poignant.

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I’ll spare you a “family that slays together” joke

Frailty has a lot of positive associations for me, from my first viewing with my bestie Senta and my favorite ex Ang to each subsequent viewing with treasured horror movie buddies, including my sister Leslie, her boyfriend Kevin, and my husband Andrew. I still crack up every time little goody-two-shoes Adam is teased for putting so many peas on his plate, and he responds, “I sure love peas!” Overall, the movie is clever and not overly predictable. Give it a look if you’re in the mood for southern folks, old-fashioned values, and demon hunting.

Digging Up the Marrow (movie review)

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Real-life filmmaker Adam Green is making a faux documentary about monsters. He’s contacted by William Dekker (Ray Wise), who tells him that he’s found a nest of real monsters. Adam is intrigued and later obsessed with getting to the bottom of Dekker’s story. He and his cameraman Will go out to the woods with him and find more than they bargained for.

The film takes a fascinating look at the nature of monsters. They’re examined as necessary to people as an escape from reality and as archetypal underdogs. Dekker stresses that they’re misunderstood. He claims his Marrow, as he calls them, are seriously disfigured humans who live peacefully underground. However Dekker is actually the creepiest element in the movie; he’s hiding something and is clearly not all there. But his argument for the existence of the Marrow is strangely compelling, even when he can’t produce proof.

The most interesting thing about the movie is how it blends real life with fiction. Aside from Dekker, all the people in the film play themselves. The performances are surprisingly strong; Green, who gets most of the screen time, does quite well. What he doesn’t do is present himself as a likable person who makes sound decisions. Eventually he’s blundering around in the woods, screaming into and even reaching into the hole that marks the monster’s territory after something steals his boot.

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Aww he looks so happy to see them

Humor is used lightly and effectively. My favorite moment is when Dekker discusses a Marrow hideout near an IHOP. When questioned why there of all places, he answers straight-faced, “They like pancakes.” The pacing is a bit slow (we spend the first hour pretty much wondering if Green is going to end up in Dekker’s mystery room). There are occasional creepy moments, including a jump scare that genuinely made me jump. But the ending totally delivers. It’s very much worth the wait.

I’m a fan of Green’s Hatchet series, and I trust him as a filmmaker to make something good. Also, I was nerding out over cameos by Tony Todd, Kane Hodder, and Don Coscarelli (and to a lesser extent Tom Holland and Mick Garris). I wasn’t disappointed. Check it out if you’re in the mood for something thoughtful and disturbing.