By Rick Bentley
The title of Ouija: Origin of Evil should be changed to the more appropriate Ouija: Bored. This lacklustre follow up to the incredibly bad Ouija of two years ago is more likely to put you to sleep than keep you awake.
The scariest thing about the original Ouija was that the viewer might get crushed under its pile of cliches or fall out of their seat from boredom. It’s nice to see that tradition continues through the sloppy script by director Mike Flanagan and Jeff Howard.
For no real good reason, the film is set in 1967 where Alice (Elizabeth Reaser) and her two daughters, Paulina (Annalise Basso) and Doris (Lulu Wilson), do readings in their home. All of the mystical moments are manufactured by the trio but they believe this is justified because they are making people feel good.
At this point, you should be aware that several spoilers are coming.
When a Ouija board is introduced into the act, the faked spiritual connections become real. That’s not completely true, as it’s not the Ouija board that has created the connection with evil spirits but the house where the family has lived for years. There’s already been a horror film called House, so in one of the endless lazy moves of writing, the film ends up trying to build off the Ouija board idea with little success.
That’s just the first of numerous mistakes. The most unforgivable act is making the 9-year-old Doris the primary vehicle for the evil spirits. Making a child a potential killer is more unsettling than scary. It’s bad enough when scares are cultivated by putting children in peril. Making them the monster is absolutely wrong.
Another big problem is the setting. The house holds a connection to World War II criminals. If this is supposed to be a prequel to Ouija, the ties are not that strong.
Having already stumbled with his approach to the core evil of the film and the time period, Flanagan completely guts any terror with a series of moments that have been used so often in horror films the chills are gone. Seeing a person scamper across the ceiling doesn’t have the punch it once did.
Give Reaser credit for trying to breathe life into the project. Just as she did in all of the Twilight movies, she has an uncanny ability to make even the most preposterous seem real. It’s a good try, but not nearly enough to save the project.
The same can’t be said for Henry Thomas, who appears one nod away from dozing off in portraying Father Tom. The difference in his emotional acting range between caring and concerned is so thin even a magnifying glass can’t reveal the difference.
You don’t have to ask a Ouija board about the quality of this failed attempt at horror. If you did, it would spell out S T I N K E R. —The Fresno Bee/TNS
Better when it’s weirder
By Katie Walsh
It can be difficult to be around lots of happy people when you’re feeling grey. That’s the conundrum of Branch (Justin Timberlake), a misanthropic and maudlin troll who just doesn’t fit in with his dancing, singing brethren in the animated feature Trolls. It’s easy to see where he’s coming from. His foil, Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick), bursts with a weaponised sense of joy, forcing her subjects into an oppressive regime of colourful, glittery glee, replete with complex choreography to Top 40 hits. Her cover medley of Move Your Feet and D.A.N.C.E. is a veritable assault on the senses.
Joy is a complicated part of the trolls’ history, as they’ve been hunted and consumed for years by the miserable bergens, a grumpy species who believe that the only way to achieve happiness is through eating trolls. The last bergen feast was 20 years ago, when King Peppy (Jeffrey Tambor) saved the trolls and took them into hiding. They remain hidden until Poppy decides to throw the biggest, baddest, loudest rave in celebration of their independence, drawing out the bergens.
Got all that mythology? The thing about films centred around retro children’s toys is that there’s no backstory – it’s a blank slate for the filmmakers to go wild. The diminutive, wild-haired troll dolls become highly excitable party monsters with a penchant for pop music, running around a world crafted out of felt and fabric, trying to escape the monsters hoping for a fix of fun.
When Branch and Poppy team up to save some of their troll friends plucked out of the rave by the evil bergen Chef (Christine Baranski), they have to meet in the middle. Poppy has to learn that despite her sunny outlook, it’s not always rainbows and sunshine. Branch has to learn that it’s OK to feel happy, sing, and express emotion despite the risk of danger. Once these two get on the same level, the joy outbursts become far more tolerable and a lot less grating.
The second half of the film largely features two of the best voice performances in Trolls: Christopher Mintz-Plasse as the portly bergen boy king Gristle, and Zooey Deschanel as lovelorn bergen scullery maid Bridget. Both are yearning for happiness, buying the lie that the only way to achieve that is through troll consumption. Deschanel’s performance of ugly duckling Bridget is filled with a sense of whimsical melodrama and true pathos. She gives Poppy a real mission and a challenge – how does one cheer up a lovesick, downtrodden scullery maid? It does prove true that trolls are the key to happiness, but only because they show those bergens how to boogie down and have a good time. Hint: It revolves around Timberlake’s undeniable summer jam, Can’t Stop the Feeling. Go ahead, just try not dancing to it.
There’s something about the neon-tinted, sugar-smacked highs of Trolls that can be bizarrely infectious. When it’s weirder, it’s better, and there are elements of the animation design seemingly inspired by old 1970s cartoons and children’s shows like H.R. Pufnstuf. When the soundtrack sticks to popular tunes rather than original musical numbers, Timberlake and Kendrick give inspired vocal performances, particularly on True Colors. When Trolls finds its balance, universal, if simple truths abound, preaching the gospel of finding contentment in oneself, not through a quick fix. — TNS
Saqr Entertainment Stores, Doha
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