Wakanda For Real (Black Panther review)

I find it supremely satisfying to learn that a well-made movie, about a comic book character, and an origin story no-less, is at the top of this list both critically and commercially.

That the character is a black superhero appeals to me as both an artist (and an outlier) and because I think we’ve seen more then our share of white superheroes for some time now.


Black Panther (2018)

Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright,  Winston Duke, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis
Director: Ryan Coogler
released on blu-ray May 15, 2018
********** 10/10

IMDB: 7.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%, Audience Score 79%
The Guardian: ****/*****

Ryan Kyle Coogler is an American film director, producer, and screenwriter. He is best known for crafting stories that put minority characters and their cultures into the spotlight. He has directed three films, Fruitvale Station, Creed, and now Black Panther, all of which feature Michael B. Jordan in a prominent role. He will also be directing the Creed sequel which releases later this year.

Black Panther is currently the highest grossing film in history directed by an African American, a critical success and an overwhelming commercial success with an insane opening weekend box office of $202 million, beaten out only by two of the three Avengers films, Jurassic World, The Force Awakens, and The Last Jedi.

Special thanks to an anonymous Editor for the IMDB summary of the film –

After the events of Captain America: Civil War, King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns home to the reclusive, technologically advanced African nation of Wakanda to serve as his country’s new leader. However, T’Challa soon finds that he is challenged for the throne from factions within his own country. When two foes (Andy Serkis) (Michael B. Jordan) conspire to destroy Wakanda, the hero known as Black Panther must team up with C.I.A. agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) and members of the Dora Milaje (Danai Gurira), Wakandan special forces, to prevent Wakanda from being dragged into a world war.

This is a film which upends a lot of stereotypes we’ve come to expect in movies. With an almost entirely black cast, each character is developed with great detail, and so there is someone for everyone to identify with, effectively eliminating any oversimplification of motives, interests and abilities. Wakanda is so much more technologically advanced then anywhere else in the world, in fact, they make James Bond movies look silly, which is demonstrated when T’Challa visits Seoul.

And let’s not forget that Shuri is the most brilliant scientist, and that the Dora Milaje are the most bad ass of the bad ass warrior guards I’ve seen in any movie really.

Pros: It’s beautiful to look at, with meticulously created sets, character backstories, lots of supporting cast that work well together, and well directed, despite it’s long runtime. Michael B. Jordan sings as Killmonger, making him one of the best villains, it not a serious contender for number one.

Cons: The fighting and action is such a formula now that it’s difficult to really appreciate it in light of all of the political discourse taking place over the length of the film. Chadwick Boseman takes a backseat to Michael B. Jordan.

Runtime: 2 hours 14 minutes

Points of Interest: The name “Wakanda” comes from the Wakamba tribe of Kenya, also known as the Kamba. Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis both starred in The Hobbit movies, and were affectionately known on set as the “Tolkien White Guys”. In one of the areas where Wakandan glyphs move on translucent walls, one wall is blue and has “4” written on it, an homage to the Fantastic Four, where the Black Panther and Ulysses Klaw made their debut appearances.

Not only is it the best looking Marvel movie yet, the soundtrack is excellent on it’s own, and it can knowingly function as it’s own film, with very little involvement from other Marvel Studio movies. Plus the politics. Thank God for the political subtleties of this story.

theories Summarized

So there you have it, all of my thoughts and feelings about the Black Panther movie, which I believe is a very important movie in the MCU and am very thankful has gotten so much praise from minority groups, considering how well made it is. I hope that means we will see even more minority character representation in the MCU movies going forward – perhaps even a Sam Wilson Captain America?

I also thought it would be a good idea to release a Watch Culture video about Captain America Civil War to coincide with this Black Panther review! After all, we wouldn’t have gotten a Black Panther movie if this one hadn’t preceded it, plus it’s an amazing representation of comics in general.

Lastly, please let me know what you thought of both of these reviews on love, like and share the video, and subscribe to the channel (and email) if you haven’t already. Lots more theories to come!


I’m In Your Face (Brawl in Cell Block 99 review)

As a child of the eighties I had the great misfortune to have missed out on grindhouse cinema. Sitting in a theatre all day, watching raw  and wriggling film seems like an excellent way to spend your time, but alas I will never get to have that experience. If only there were movies out there that could recreate that grit…


Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017)

Cast: Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Carpenter, Don Johnson, Marc Blucas, Dion Mucciacito, Udo Kier
Director: S. Craig Zahler
released on blu-ray December 26, 2017
********** 10/10

IMDB: 7.2
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%, Audience Score 74%
The Guardian: ***/*****

Steven Craig Zahler, known sometimes as S. Craig Zahler and also as Czar when performing, is a director, screenwriter, cinematographer, novelist, and musician.  He has written novels in a number of genres, most notably within the western, crime and science fiction arenas, and his work as a drummer, lyricist, and singer for Realmbuilder has garnered success with metal enthusiasts. In short, Zahler is a man of many talents.

Brawl in Cell Block 99 is his second film, but his first film (Bone Tomahawk) received critical acclaim and a positive response from the general public. I think this can be attributed to his broad interests and his ability to fuse genres together in an appealing way.

But best of all, he has managed to take an actor like Vince Vaughn, play to his comedic strengths and infuse a fresh perspective to his talents which allow a grindhouse crime film to work in a satirical state of Trump presidency.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Bradley Thomas (Vince Vaughn), driving a tow truck with a car in tow, pulls into the auto garage lot he works at. Soon after he arrives, he is laid off. He gathers his personal items from a locker and departs the garage in his car. As he arrives home, he sees his wife, Lauren (Jennifer Carpenter), sitting in her car in front of their house, using her cellphone. He approaches her and demands to see her phone, which she gives to him. As he is scrolling through it, Lauren admits to him that she has been seeing someone else. Bradley instructs her to go into the house, which she does. He then violently dismantles her car with his bare hands. When done, he enters the house to speak to Lauren about why she made the decision to cheat on him. Once the discussion ends, Bradley decides to forgive Lauren and to do more than just make ends meet. He makes the decision to return to drug dealing, a life he previously left behind.

Eighteen months later, Bradley and a pregnant Lauren living in a larger, more expensive home. Bradley’s boss, Gil (Marc Blucas), gives him a new assignment. Bradley is to go with two men to pick up a shipment. Bradley does not trust the two men, but is urged by Gil to do the job, as it will lead to more money and more business. During the job, Bradley and the two men pick up the shipment by boat. As they drop the boat off at the pier, one of the two men takes one of the bags and heads to the car as Bradley ties up the boat. Bradley takes the other bag, dumps it in the water for a later retrieval, and instructs them to do the same with their bags but they knock him down & run off with one of the bags. Suddenly, the police show up and engage in a firefight with the two men. Bradley has a chance to leave, as the police have not spotted him. But, aware that the deal was that no one was supposed to be harmed, he decides to stop the two men. One is killed by the police and the other is knocked out by Bradley. Bradley is taken into custody and ultimately sent to a medium security prison.

On the second day of his incarceration, he is visited by the Placid Man, (Udo Kier), who informs Bradley that he works for the boss of the two men that were killed in the shootout. He tells Bradley that Lauren has been kidnapped and that, unless he kills an inmate named Christopher Bridge, limbs of his unborn child will be surgically removed and sent to him. Bradley decides to take the job. The Placid Man tells Bradley that the inmate is in cell block 99 inside Redleaf correctional facility, a different maximum security prison.

Bradley picks a fight with a guard, brutally breaking his arm. As he is restrained and being taken away, Bradley fights with the other guards, until he’s overpowered and transferred to Redleaf. There, he meets Warden Tuggs (Don Johnson), who subjects Bradley to a cavity search outside of the prison entrance. Bradley is put into a horrible cell, where the toilet is clogged with feces. The smell being so overwhelming, Bradley is forced to take off his undershirt and wrap it around his nose. Eventually, he is able to go outside for yard time. When a fellow inmate informs him that Christopher Bridge is not located in this section of the prison, Bradley fights some fellow inmates and consequently is thrown into Cell Block 99.

Bradley is forced to wear a belt that gives him electric shocks at a push of a button, as punishment for the fight. His cell in block 99 is lined with broken glass. Bradley devises a plan and takes the lining from his shoes and puts them between his body and the belt to minimise the shocks. The plan works, but he accidentally kills one of the guards when he slams a door on his face when he tries to escape. Bradley locks the other guard in his cell. Bradley goes and meets with the boss of the men who he assaulted earlier (revealed to be the man who hired Bradley for the initial job that landed him in prison). Bradley fights with his henchmen, leading to him stepping on the back of one of the men’s heads and dragging it across the pavement, leaving that man’s face disfigured, with his skull showing. Bradley fights another henchman and slams his foot down on that man’s face, brutally dislodging his jaw, killing him. Bradley grabs the boss and takes him back to his cell. Bradley takes the man’s phone and calls The Placid Man to negotiate for Lauren’s freedom. Warden Tuggs arrives at the entrance to block 99, but Bradley threatens to kill the remaining guard, if he and any other guards comes in. Lauren is delivered to Gil, who in turn, kills The Placid Man. Bradley then speaks to Lauren for the last time, as well as sharing a few words with their unborn child.

After knowing Lauren is safe, Bradley grabs the boss and places his head over the crude squat toilet hole and stomps on his head, decapitating him. The captured guard runs from the cell, and Warden Tuggs enters into the cell. Accepting his fate, Bradley gives one last look at Tuggs, before Tuggs shoots Bradley twice, once in the chest and once in the head. The screen fades to black as we hear the third gunshot and Bradley’s body hit the floor.

It’s a simple premise taken to excess. A film that by all accounts shouldn’t exist, and yet macho ultra violence still features heavily in modern cinema. Quentin Tarantino should probably hang up his hat now, because Zahler is willing to take risks with his characters that Tarantino has taken since Pulp Fiction. Bradley is certainly mild-mannered at the start of the film. He takes losing his job like a champ, but when he learns his wife is cheating on him, a tiger beneath is hinted at, and so we see that there is so much more to his personal history and an inhuman kind of strength held at bay.

It’s not until the second act that we really see the full extent of Bradley’s abilities, but it is completely necessary to humanize him first, so that both the satisfaction as he moves towards his goal and irksome consequences of his actions stick with us after the curtain has lowered and the lights have dimmed on the blood-soaked floor of this epic.

Pros: Vaughan’s character is grounded in emotion and a loyalty to his family, and so the violence becomes intelligent played to accentuate the fantasy of a blue collar worker acting out.

Cons: For all of the detail and intentionally cheap practical effects, it isn’t always clear what the message of the film should be. But then again, wasn’t that true of most grindhouse films of the seventies?

Runtime: 2 hours 12 minutes

Points of Interest: …

It’s amazing to see Vaughn in such an intimidating role, because it also feels like he is invested in the role after a decade of being type-cast in loser man-child roles. I really enjoyed a lot of films that came out in 2017, with La La Land, Get Out, Logan, The LEGO Batman Movie and Baby Driver at the top of that list… but this seems to be the sleeper hit of the season, and one I’m glad to have stumbled upon.

theories Summarized

I’m not sure what the future holds for Vince Vaughn or for S. Craig Zahler for that matter, but I honestly can say that I hope both of them continue to make these kinds of intelligently constructed and entertaining worlds. Stories like Brawl in Cell Block 99 have a message within them, and that is one of quality over quantity.

That said, it seemed like a good time to share another of my favourite films with you in this week’s Watch Culture episode. A fun and quick overview of 2015’s The Gift, starring Joel Edgerton, Jason Bateman, and Rebecca Hall, with Edgerton in a first-time directorial role as well. It’s really quite excellent, and the film is top shelf too. But I’ll leave that final decision up to you. And as always… Comment! Like! Subscribe!


Dear Diary, Jackpot (Logan Lucky review)

Sometimes greatness is thrust upon us, whether we are willing to accept it or not. I often think of this adage when I watch an exceptionally brilliant piece of cinema, one that takes its time to prove itself. This weeks movie review is an excellent example of a great movie hidden within the context of its time.

When everyone is complaining about entrenched politics, Steven Soderbergh has proven that judging a book by its cover can be fatal.


Logan Lucky (2017)

Cast: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Riley Keough, Farrah Mackenzie, Katie Holmes, Seth MacFarlane
Director: Steven Soderbergh
re-released on blu-ray November 28, 2017
********* 9/10

IMDB: 7.1
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%, Audience Score 76%
The Guardian: ****/*****

Steven Soderbergh is an American director, producer, and screenwriter. His debut film, Sex, Lies, and Videotape garnered huge attention for him in 1989, and ever since then, he has gone to great success with titles like Erin Brockovich, Traffic, the Ocean’s Eleven remakes, Side Effects, and Magic Mike. Soderbergh has also produced and been  involved in a host of other commercial and critically successful movies.

Logan Lucky marks a return to directing for him after a four year hiatus, and I think with this gem, he has proven that he still has a good handle on filmmaking. It’s actually quite a brilliant story.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum), a blue collar laborer whose once promising football career was ruined by an injury, is laid off from his construction job at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. While visiting his ex-wife Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes) to pick up their daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie) for a beauty pageant, he learns that Bobbie and her new husband intend to move to Lynchburg, making it even harder for him to visit.

Angry, Jimmy goes to a bar run by his brother Clyde (Adam Driver), an Iraq War veteran who, on account of losing part of his left arm, wears a prosthetic hand. Max Chilblain (Seth MacFarlane), a pretentious British businessman & NASCAR team owner, and his friends arrive and insult Clyde before getting in a fight with Jimmy. Meanwhile, Clyde sets fire to their car with a molotov cocktail. On his way out, Jimmy yells “cauliflower”, which Clyde recognizes as an old code word from when they used to commit crimes as young boys. Next day, Jimmy explains his plan to rob the Speedway, exploiting his knowledge of their pneumatic tube system for moving money.

Clyde agrees to the plan, and he and Jimmy recruit Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), a convicted safecracker, as well as Joe’s dimwitted brothers Sam and Fish (Brian Gleeson and Jack Quaid), and their own sister Mellie (Riley Keough). They plan to break Joe out of prison and return him as soon as the heist is complete before anyone notices. Clyde gets sent to prison on a minor charge. Mellie, Sam, and Fish infest the Speedway’s main vault with cockroaches, forcing it to be cleaned and allowing them to measure it. While gathering supplies, Jimmy meets former schoolmate Sylvia (Katherine Waterston), who runs a mobile clinic in desperate need of donations; Sylvia provides Jimmy with a tetanus shot and the two strike up a conversation. Later, Jimmy learns that construction at the speedway is being finished ahead of schedule, forcing them to commit the heist earlier, during the much busier Coca-Cola 600 race on Memorial Day weekend.

Joe and Clyde arrange for the prison’s inmates to stage a riot, the lockdown hiding their absence. They escape through the infirmary and exit the prison by hiding under a delivery truck. Mellie meets them with Bobbie’s husband’s stolen sports car, and drives them to the Speedway. Meanwhile, Sam and Fish destroy the main generator with an explosive, forcing all vendors to switch to cash. Joe improvises an explosive from bleach, gummy bears, and a dietary salt substitute to detonate the main pneumatic pipe, and the crew begins vacuuming the money. The staff notice smoke coming out of the tubes, and security guards are dispatched to investigate, but a diversion set up by Jimmy and one of Clyde’s bar patrons prevents them from discovering the heist. Complications arise when Clyde loses his prosthetic hand during the vacuuming, and he and Joe are spotted by Chilblain and his sponsored NASCAR driver Dayton White (Sebastian Stan) while making their way back to prison. Nevertheless, the job is a success, and Jimmy makes it to his daughter’s pageant just as she performs a rendition of his favorite song, “Take Me Home, Country Roads”. Jimmy abandons the money and anonymously alerts the police so they can retrieve it.

FBI agent Sarah Grayson (Hilary Swank) investigates the heist but – due to the unwillingness of the prison authorities to disclose the extent of the riot, the refuting of Chilblain’s eyewitness account by White (disgruntled as he crashed during the Coca-Cola 600 due to his drinking some of Chilblain’s energy drink as part of the sponsorship deal), and the Speedway administration’s satisfaction with their insurance settlement – the case is closed after six months. Joe is released and returns to his old home where, prompted by a red shovel, he finds part of the money buried by a tree in his yard. During the heist, Jimmy purposely separated several bags from the rest of the loot and sent them to the local dump with the regular trash. The rest he returned to throw off any potential investigations. Jimmy also retrieved Clyde’s prosthetic hand from the vacuum machine. Now working as a Lowe’s salesman and with a house he bought next to his daughter’s, Jimmy happily reunites with his family at Clyde’s bar, where they and the rest of the gang share drinks. Sylvia also arrives and shares a kiss with Jimmy. Clyde doesn’t recognize one of the patrons, who turns out to be Grayson.

What is absolutely brilliant about this movie was revealed to me upon my second viewing of this film with my parents.

They are avid movie watchers, and my dad has probably seen more movies in his lifetime then I have albeit spread out over years of casual watching. So when they both told me that this movie surprised them because they weren’t expecting it to be entertaining, it confirmed a theory I have about a bias many people have – Just because a movie has a slow start, with seemingly boring and simplistic characters, does not mean that it will be a “bad movie.” In fact, the cast of this film demonstrated perfectly how a caper flick should work. If you are watching the flick with the expectation you know what is happening, but are inevitably surprised at how the protagonists pulled off the job, and then movie explains it smartly, you as an audience get to share in the accomplishment. In that case it’s been executed properly. Period.

Pros: It’s a stylish movie, but not for obvious associations of style – these are salt of the earth southern Americans, who have dry humour, and a subtle confidence in their own identities. And consequently the stakes are never raised to distract, because it’s not how these people carry themselves. We get to identify with the principal leads because they act like how we might act at any given moment.

Cons: When the dust clears and all of the mad-cap moments have been revealed, I have to wonder if there were too many one shot characters helping orchestrate the heist behind the scenes. That reminded me too much of Oceans 11 and took me out of it.

Runtime: 1 hour 58 minutes

Points of Interest: This is the first film Soderbergh has directed since his announcement to retire from film. The movie ends on a seemingly ambiguous note, but stops on Clyde’s prosthetic hand, indicating the Logan Curse might not have been lifted, after all.

theories Summarized

There is a newscast scene towards the film which dubs the robbers as Ocean’s 7-Eleven. I thought this was a fitting description of the film for people who haven’t seen it yet, and clever bit of self-depreciation on Soderbergh’s part. But that doesn’t mean this movie should be dismissed as just a riff on what has come before. It stands all on it’s own, and has heart, much like the anthemic Take Me Home, Country Roads, which dovetails the story nicely.

Ultimately, I think that what really matters about this film is that it does what it promises intelligently, without putting on airs. And maybe I’m seeing more there then the average filmgoer, but you can tell me if my theory pans out.

Oh and that reminds me! Speaking of tolerance, heart, and disarming movies… Chris and I totally have a recommendation for a great movie to watch with the whole family, one that’ll put a hop in your step. Pun intended.


A Figure Of Speech (Hidden Figures review)

When given the space to work, we are capable of incredible things. So how is it that skin and gender are still considered barriers to greatness?


Hidden Figures (2016)

Cast: Taraji P. Hensen, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge, Glen Powell
Director: Theodore Melfi
re-released on blu-ray April 11, 2017
******* 7/10

IMDB: 7.8
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%, Audience Score 93%
The Guardian: ****/*****

Theodore Melfi is an American director, producer, and writer of whom I could dig up very little information on. Melfi has only recently stepped up into the role of director, with the Billy Murray film St. Vincent being his first time at the helm, and Hidden Figures as his second outing.

Luckily for us, his involvement with the film industry has been a fairly measured one, which began in 1998, on a whim, by helping raise money for the film Park Day. So humble and full of admiration for this story is Mefli that he turned down the opportunity to direct Spider-Man: Homecoming over Hidden Figures…which blows me away, personally.

That mentioned, what follows is a very brief overview of the film, and to give a sense of how it unfolds.


Set in 1960s America, and taking place near Cape Canaveral, we watch the stories of mathematician Katherine C. Johnson (Taraji P. Hensen) (formerly Goble), engineer Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) and computer supervisor Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) as they work for NASA during the space race to put a man into orbit around the Earth. Taking place at NASA primarily, we watch these human computers fight for equal rights as both women and minority figures on campus.

All three woman are in the midst of proving themselves to their peers, and especially outperforming many of them, much to the shock of the average NASA scientist, like lead mathematician Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons), head supervisor Vivian Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst) and floor director Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), though Harrison is not portrayed with prejudice, only as stern in his approach to success.

We also see into these women’s lives and watch them address family matters and challenges associated with romantic relationships. For instance, Goble eventually enters into a romantic relationships with the recently returned Colonel Jim Johnson (Mahershala Ali), who initially repels her with an ill-made comment about women and mathematics.

Based on true stories surrounding these three legendary women who helped John Glenn (Glen Powell) up until his launch date, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Katherine Johnson truly are well deserved pillars for any of us who struggle with gender, race, and professional boundaries but have a desire to to bring something good into the world.

A familiar story of triumph over adversity, Hidden Figures offers a unique slant in the tone being set with the content and the performances that drive the action forward. All three arcs work well together, with a little more time being spent on the growth of Katherine Johnson and her supporting cast-mates. It never holds your hand on the issues of the day, but instead faces them indirectly so that you can might better glide through a key moment in history.

Yes, it is incredibly heart-warming and very much an easy to digest movie, but the fact that it is able to look at crucial women in the history of NASA without pandering too heavily to us, is a very odd thing to experience.

Pros: An uncomplicated story which gives some well merited screen time to people that did great things for humanity. It also does well to elevate the profiles of Hensen, Spencer and Monae; with Monae stealing the show every turn she gets.

Cons: I can’t help but wonder if a story about great people deserves greater treatment for its characters and more details coming through each scene… And if it has any real staying power in coming years.

Runtime: 2 hours 7 minutes

Points of Interest: The coffee brand used in Katherine’s work area is significant, it was Chock Full o’Nuts, which was one of the first corporations to hire a black executive at a VP level. The man Chock Full o’Nuts  hired was retired baseball legend Jackie Robinson, the first person to break the color barrier in professional baseball. Also, the set used for Dorothy Vaughan’s house is actually an historic house in Atlanta, where civil rights pioneers Ralph Abernathy and Martin Luther King met.

Hidden figures manages to entertain and showcase great performances from its three leads, but I have to wonder if the feel-good angle was the right way to to go with this story.

theories Summarized

Overall, Hidden Figures is an excellent film from an entertainment perspective and does great work in highlighting the efforts of those black women who made major contributions to the space race happening during the Cold War. Odd that echoes technological advancement and racism throughout it’s story in a time when that is exactly what we seem to be experiencing a lot of of.

And man do I ever wish that was only a theory, but we really do need to be vigilant in the face of these injustices.


Rules Were Made To Be Broken (Ouija: Origin of Evil review)

I haven’t had a lot of experiences with ouija boards. My upbringing saw quick to that resolution. If you’re Catholic or any other kind of Christian denomination and your family is serious about their beliefs, it kinda sticks with you.

That being said, I was a teenager once, barely out of elementary school, headed straight into puberty town. And yes I did play with a ouija board, but thankfully, I didn’t get these results.




Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)

Cast: Annalise Basso, Elizabeth Reaser, Lulu Wilson, Henry Thomas
Director: Mike Flanagan
released on blu-ray January 17, 2017
***** 5/10


IMDB: 6.2
Rotten Tomatoes: 82%, Audience Score 59%
The Guardian: ***/*****

Mike Flanagan is an American film maker. Already known for making horror films, of which he directs, writes, and edits himself, Flanagan has released Absentia, Oculus, Hush, Ouija: Origin of Evil, and Before I Wake all within the last five years. His next planned film project is an adaptation of the Stephen King novel, Gerald’s Game.

Flanagan originally started making dramas as a film student, but had written Oculus with horror film elements, and so he shot a portion of the film which included a back story to demonstrate his greater range. The move paid off and got him attention in the industry, though no major studios wanted to give him the reins or produce the film under his full direction, so he launched a Kickstarter campaign to produce Absentia. Absentia eventually made its way to Netflix, and after that Flanagan was able to get Intrepid Pictures on board to produce Oculus, which paved the way for his next four films.

Ouija: Origins of Evil is one of four films that Flanagan has released in 2016. A prequel to the 2014 flop Ouija, this movie gives context to the reason why the Ouija board is evil and what the motivations of Paulina Zander are.

Origins of Evil is set in the 1960s, where widow Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) works as a medium, supported by daughters, Paulina “Lina” (Annalise Basso) and Doris (Lulu Wilson). Alice stages her seances, but really wants to help people move on. When Lina suggests adding a Ouija board into the routine, Alice unknowingly contacts a spirit named Marcus. Marcus poses as her husband Roger and even helps the family find money in the house to prevent a foreclosure, but he eventually possesses Doris because she unknowingly breaks all three rules of the ouija board – never play alone, never play in a graveyard, and always say goodbye.

Lina notices the change in her sister and brings it to the attention of Father Tom (Henry Thomas) at school, hoping he will interpret her sudden knowledge of Polish. Father Tom visits the family and pretends that he wants contact with his dead wife Gloria. He tricks the spirit into repeating answers he was thinking, proving it is not Gloria. He reveals this to Lina and Alice, while possessed Doris is left alone. While this is happening Lina’s boyfriend shows up and Doris kills him.

Father Tom, Alice, and Lina decide to burn the ouija board and then Father Tom discovers that the house is an unofficial graveyard for a doctor that captured people and experimented on them during WWII. Father Tom is possessed by the spirits in a hidden room of the basement, is possessed, regains consciousness, and is then killed by Doris.

Alice is captured and Lina knocked out, but Lina has a vision where she learns from her father that Doris’ mouth needs to be stitched to shut out the voices. Lina wakes, pins Doris and accomplishes the deed, killing her in the process. After this, Lina is temporarily possessed and stabs Alice. Alice dies, but sees Roger and Doris together and heads towards them. Fast forward two months, Lina has been committed and is suspected of murder. The doctor cannot get much out of her, and leaves. We learn he is still watching Lina and witnesses her attempt to summon her sister. Behind the doctor, Doris crawls across the ceiling.

Pros: Skillfully presenting the period in which it is set, this film is visually appealing, and the premise is interesting. Definitely more successful of what it presents then its predecessor.

Cons: It manages to be both derivative and wildly disruptive in it’s pacing, building slowly at first and then running at a breakneck pace to tie up lose ends and force a plot. It is difficult to watch at times, but mostly because there is nothing there.

Runtime: 1hour 39 minutes

Points of Interest: The Universal Pictures 1963-90 title design was used to add to the retro feel. The real Hasbro Ouija board does not contain the 3 instructions portrayed in the movie. Doris isn’t possessed in the traditional sense… the spirits break her back when entering it, killing her. For the rest of the film it is just her possessed corpse housing the spirits.

Ouija: Origin of Evil might not be a perfect take on the horror genre, as it duplicates a lot of what has preceded it, however it does feature some interesting moments of exploration, not enough to spare us from the  timewasting qualities found in cookie-cutter horror. That said, it is definitely better than the original and visually appealing. You might find yourself taking up that planchette and hovering around.

I’m glad no one in my family got possessed after that encounter with a ouija board as a teenager, though admittedly my cousins and I did scare the shit out of my baby brother, and now he scares everyone whenever he can. So maybe there is a lesson to be learned from this movie. Don’t mess with stuff you don’t understand. At least that’s my theory.