-A surprisingly decent horror sequel and a terribly unfunny spy spoof.

There’s no way that after seeing the first Ouija film that your toes didn’t curl in frustration when it became evident that there would be a sequel to such a complete abomination. After crafting one of the most cliched and pathetic horror entries of this decade, Blumhouse decided to put a really good team behind the low-budget sequel. The result is one of the scarier movies of this year, and also (perhaps) the most surprising.

It is, in fact, a prequel to the original film, as we become associated with the Lin Shaye character and her possessed sister in pretty disturbing fashion. Back in the late 60s/early 70s, the two girls, now played by Annalise Basso as Lina and Lulu Wilson as Doris, help their mom (Elizabeth Reaser) make money as a scam artist, pretending to be a psychic. Knowing they need to refresh that act, she decides to invest in the new Ouija-board game. When this happens, a spirit is released that begins to possess Doris, setting off a nasty chain of events.

The movie avoids jump scares for the most part in an effort to build tension in a more natural way. The modern technique for horror films involves a way to get the audience to jump at random moments, but never really feel the full effect of a scary situation. Although the plot and third-act finale of this movie have serious problems, the fact that Mike Flanagan used his experience to make some truly spooky sequences is enough to recommend this as a surprising Halloween delight. When the finale comes around, we struggle to accept the return to the plot-line of the first Ouija film, but some solid moments of shocking imagery lead us down a nice path of well-directed scares. It foregoes shock and gore in order to be stylish and haunting in a very classic way. Mix that with things like the breaks in the picture that make it look like real film instead of digital and the result is a product that puts us in a position to care about the movie, mostly because the creators actually did too. It’s nice to get a large-studio horror that stays true to itself.

 

3 stars

Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)

Genre: Horror

Director: Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Hush, Absentia)

Starring: Elizabeth Reaser, Annalise Basso, Lulu Wilson, Henry Thomas, and Parker Mack

RT Score: 80%

 


Even solid comedy actors sometimes get scripts that they can’t work with, such was the case for Greg Mottola, the director of the completely mediocre and unneeded Keeping Up With the Joneses. Although there are random moments that showcase the talent of the four stars involved, the outcome is mostly an unnecessary update of the spy spoof genre without anything new to offer, but also too afraid to do anything truly exciting that deviates from formula.

We have a boring suburban couple (Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher) who get a few weeks alone when their two sons go to summer camp. As this happens, two attractive and charismatic neighbors move in across the street (Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot), which puts the normal couple off. When they begin to suspect that the Joneseses may have more to them than meets the eye, “hilarity” ensues.

Outside of a few chuckles that didn’t quite rise to real laughs, this is a pretty straight-faced movie. This would be fine if the action was good enough to just make this something that’s closer to amusing than actually funny, but the poorly directed actions scenes and lack of good script writing just makes it a pretty mediocre effort. I like Jon Hamm as an actor, he deserves better than this, and Gal Gadot’s breakout continues, but overall, this is a film that’s best left to go unwatched in your on-Demand queue.

 

1.5 stars

Keeping Up With the Joneses (2016)

Genre: Comedy

Director: Greg Mottola (Superbad, Adventureland, The Daytrippers, Paul)

Starring: Zach Galifianakis, Isla Fisher, Jon Hamm, Gal Gadot, and Matt Walsh

RT Score: 17%

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