Alright, before we get into this I will admit Ouija: The Origin of Evil is a worthwhile afternoon popcorn flick, as in, good enough to watch but not a must see. This rant just uses the film as catalyst into pointing out another issue in film today.
Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016 dir. Mike Flanagan) – The trouble with being too authentic
The horror genre is a blast. It is the only genre out there that gets’ scrutinized, analyzed, and criticized by anyone that can communicate. It has an insane devoted fan following, with any of the horror genre movies having merchandise on everything you could fathom. It is the only genre out there that can synthesize seamlessly with another genre. The horror genre has multiple sub-genres with sub-genres within sub-genres of those said sub-genres. For roughly 40 days everyone falls in love with the genre until November 2nd , then are sick of it for next 11 months out of the year (outside of its’ fans).
What makes horror truly the most unique genre out there, is it is the only genre out there that tries “one up” itself, with directors “one up” each other on gore, “one up” on monsters, slashers, and even “one up” on how authentic a film looks. This is where Ouija: Origin of Evil comes into play. The film is hell bent on giving a complete authentic feel set in the 1960s, which is great for setting, costume, make-up, music, props, dialogue, etc. Except this movie was shot digitally. And why is being shot on digital a huge mistake for this film. Well the opening of the film is a throwback of the universal logo, not a real issue, the title card is a throwback to 50s and 60s title card, which is a nice touch, but the issue lies in the visible markings as if there is a projectionist doing reel to reel change overs in the theatre with “cigarette burns” and a rare minor scratch to the film. This desire for this unneeded authentic detail creates distraction from the actual story. By having the desired effect to look like the film was made in the 1960s, would require that it be shot with actual 35mm film and color corrected by Technocolor to get it the real saturated look. The film is shot digitally though and digitally corrected in post giving the film a clean and unsaturated look. By adding cues that only projectionist and cinephallics goes overboard and compromises all other suspicion of belief for the film.
Ouija is not to blame though for wanting to this. The genre has been demanding this “one up” attitude for quite some time. The origins of this “one up”, as it plays to authenticity could in itself be an extended thesis paper in its’ own right and this is not what this article is trying to aim towards. Instead I want to point out briefly this idea of authenticity, the aesthetic of looking damaged, and why it is not as interesting as it should be.
Ouija, in its’ interest in looking authentic are subtle and for some people, such as myself, will easily be distracted from the story by this attempt to go that extra mile in looking authentic. And the problem is it is not 100% genuine, it is manufactured, liked faded, torn jeans. Sure the pair I have is not exactly the same as the person in line behind me, but it isn’t real, I didn’t create the faded out knee just like that person didn’t create the damaged hem line at the bottom the jeans. In the horror genre this weird demand to look authentic with scratches, dated title cards, cigarette burns, etc. are a real problem. Outside of Ouija, another film released his year called Carnage Park (2016, USA, dir. Mickey Keating) does similar effects, with a slow to start reel of the title card flashing like the projector is trying to catch up to speed, add the obvious off color effect and second rate editing of the film comes off more fake then authentic to the viewer.
To point two films from this year is giving little evidence and to assume that this effect is terrible should not be done is misleading. If we go back a decade to the grindhouse double feature Tarantino and Rodriguez did, which, may not be the first films to “one up” on looking authentic but defiantly the first films be marketed to a wide audience on this premise is an example of how it is done right. These film were a success in this style but this authentic style works, in that for these films, it was part of the joke and story. The directors’ choice of initial scratching, off sync sound, off coloring created an atmosphere that seem coincidental and in some sections actually played into the story (think in PLANET TERROR, the mutation looks cheap but the bad coloring gives the audience a wink at how “quickly” everything was done, and in DEATHPROOF the lap dance scene begins but the reel burns and scene missing card pops up creates tension for the characters in the story while giving the audience a good joke).
(Image from the film The Devil’s Rejects 2005 dir. Rob Zombie)
What happen afterwards is a slow pile of horror films obsessing over not only getting the story right, the special effects to fit in right, costume, and setting; but now they become obsessed with turning the appearance of the film into a piece that reflect the time period the film occurred. Films such as The Whispers in Darkness (2011, dir. Sean Branney), The Hills have Eyes, the remake of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, anything with Rob Zombie latched onto it, etc. In many ways these current films have become bad mirrors of horror with ghoulish reflections, creeping itself out into believing it is from another time period. These films tend to fail because they see the need for giving the film a degraded look but have no reason to, as it does nothing to enhance the story. It will be welcoming though in the next ten to fifteen years to see this choice in style fade out of flavor with directors. When this happens then maybe when a movie like Ouija does try to be clever, it will be a welcoming nuance.