Starring: Elizabeth Reaser, Lulu Wilson, Annalise Basso
Directed by: Mike Flanagan (“Oculus”)
Written by: Mike Flanagan (“Hush”) and Josh Howard (“Before I Wake”)
I firmly don’t believe in the paranormal, and think it’s patently ridiculous that any mass-market product made by a toy company could possibly channel the undead. That’s why I’ve never been scared of an ouija board—it has a barcode on it, and the new ones even need batteries. What does a spirit need with batteries anyway?
Still, the brand has value and Hasbro, the toy giant behind such cinematic masterpieces as “Transformers” and “Battleship,” holds the licensing rights and someone at the company though “sure, why the hell not?” when it came to adapting the parlor game into a movie.
Just before Halloween in 2014 we got “Ouija” and it was awful. Two years later, we’re treated to the prequel, “Ouija: Origin of Evil” and, in spite of the previous effort and the fact it’s based on a board game that pretends to be a tool of dark magic, it’s actually not too bad.
Set in 1967 Los Angeles, a widow named Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) conducts séances in her home, setting up the illusion of supernatural powers with the help of her two daughters, Paulina (Annalise Basso) and Doris (Lulu Wilson). Sharp-eyed fans who loved (or even remember) the first film may recognize the names of the sisters from the backstory recounted in the present day, but don’t worry, you don’t need any prior knowledge of that piece of shit movie.
Anyway, after Paulina sneaks out of the house to hang out with friends and play with an Ouija board, the sisters suggest to Alice that one of the games might spice up the readings for clients. When Doris tries to use the board alone to contact her late father, a dark spirit inhabits her, allowing her to command the board with her mind and seemingly talk to the dead—which Alice immediately uses to her advantage to gain new business. But when frightening things start happening, Paulina reaches out to her Catholic school principal Father Tom (Henry Thomas!) for help in taking down the evil that’s haunting her family.
The ‘60s setting and low-rent con artist racket that Alice runs with her girls add immediate flavor to a premise that is, ultimately, just another haunted house story with an Ouija board in the mix to make good on the licensing. Still, it’s a story fairly well told, even if some of Alice’s choices, like the one to exploit her daughter’s obviously chilling new ability, never really make sense and the climax moves forward with little regard for anything other than getting to the point where the backstory in the first movie (which, again, who the hell remembers that?) lines up with what has happened on the screen. Maybe this new-found quality will be further explored in a Magic 8-ball spin off in a few years. Outlook not so good.
Starring: Kiernan Shipka, Timothée Chalamet, Elizabeth Reaser
Directed by: Andrew Droz Palmero (“Rich Hill”)
Written by: Andrew Droz Palmero (debut) and Neima Shahdadi (debut)
Around 20 minutes into Andrew Droz Palmero’s narrative feature length debut, the film hints towards something entirely different than its initial moments. The audience doesn’t know the cause, reasoning, or consequences behind it, but it is an intriguing mystery that brings up a lot of curiosity and an equal amount of questions. Unfortunately, like many other pieces of story throughout the film, it is never fully paid off, which is a common theme in the visually impressive and narratively frustrating “One & Two.”
Walled off from other civilization, siblings Zac (Timothée Chalamet) and Ava (Kiernan Shipka) find themselves with unexplainable special abilities. With an ailing mother who encourages these abilities and an overbearing father who forbids them, Zac and Ava feel trapped and isolated and begin to wonder about life outside the confines of their farm.
Palmero, who after spending years as a cinematographer burst onto the scene as a director with last year’s acclaimed documentary “Rich Hill,” makes his mark in his narrative feature film debut with a keen visual eye and a strong ability for tone. Evoking filmmakers such as Jeff Nichols, Palmero is able to cultivate a quiet and unsettling atmosphere, matching the teenage angst and family frustration of his characters. There is also some solid, albeit slightly repetitive usage of special effects, with which Palmero is able to show restraint, doling them out sparingly without sacrificing effectiveness.
The faults of “One & Two” come at the hands of its storytelling and its refusal to answer many of the questions that come up. Palmero keeps his mysteries close to the vest, which is not inherently a bad thing, but so little is divulged throughout the course of the film and as a result, the conclusion or any of the events leading up to it lack any true satisfaction. The difficulty of latching onto anything in the narrative also leads to a collateral effect of blunting the brother/sister relationship and some of the thematic elements.
There’s a lot to admire about “One & Two,” and more specifically, about Palmero’s future as a filmmaker. He has an incredible ability to develop mood and atmosphere that should give him a prosperous career and make him a unique voice. On a micro level, however, “One & Two” never delivers on the potential of its set up. Palmero is clearly more interested in the journey than the destination. Consequently, this makes for a an unbalanced cinematic experience. As the minutes tick by and little of consequence is happening, interest beings to wane and one can’t help but feel like there should be more to it all.
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