1/2 out of ★★★★★
Beware the “mockbuster”: landmine of the cinematic landscape.
Directed by Andrea Mugnaini.
“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” or so the saying goes. I doubt they were talking about these movies, though. Welcome to the wonderful world of mockbusters. Also known as knockbusters or “drafting opportunities” (in the racing sense, not architecturally speaking — sorry, Eric), these movies tend to be micro-budget projects thrown together in record time and then given titles that sound similar to legitimately huge movies. Traditionally, the mockbuster title is rushed to market a few weeks before the real movie’s release date. Its sole purpose being to ride the wave created by whatever giant Hollywood epic it copies.
One of the masters of this practice is The Asylum studio. Their Atlantic Rim: Resurrection (2018) was put out on February 15th, just a few weeks before the March 23rd release of Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018). Their Independents’ Day (2016) hit the market on June 7th so it would be all set up to ride the swell from Independence Day: Resurgence (2016) which came out June 24th. The horror genre is no stranger to this treatment; it just doesn’t have nearly as many blockbusters to play with. What you often see are copies of legitimate movies that have done well enough to spawn a sequel or two. For example, back in 2014, Blumhouse helped produce Ouija. It managed to pull in a respectable sum at the box office and earned itself a follow-up, Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016). It also did well with moviegoers and that’s exactly the kind of pattern a mockbuster studio looks for.
Enter Ouija Seance: The Final Game (2018).
Filmed in Italy (an homage to the glory days of the spaghetti western?) using an English-speaking cast, Ouija Seance attempts to follow the tried-and-true ouija board movie formula: get a group of young adults, put them in a room with a ouija board, unleash something evil, and watch the ensuing mayhem. Notice I said “attempts” to follow the formula. As is pretty common with these films, Ouija Seance fails spectacularly on nearly every front.
The writing is at the core of most of the horribleness. First of all, the only character even remotely likable is the axe-wielding caretaker [Gianfranco Quero]. Sure, he creeps around a bit in the beginning, but deep down he’s good people. Our four main characters, though? They all come off as mercurial ass-hats whose reactions to things are either blown way out of proportion or just plain bizarre. And don’t even get me started on the “séance”.
The words are right there in the title of the movie; “ouija” and “séance”. With that as a lead-in, you’d expect some sort of familiarity with the concepts. Alas, it was not to be. Okay, they did have a cool ouija board. It was this ancient-looking, slice-of-tree thing they found when poking around the old house…
And, in all fairness, let me just take this time to give kudos to the props department (props to the kudos department?) responsible for Ouija Seance. While everything else around them was suffering from an anemic budget and an accelerated timeline, the props department managed to put together some great stuff. That ouija board, for one, and everything else in the spooky “witchcraft room” the protagonists find was believable and well done. To be honest, that was the biggest surprise in this movie.
But, I digress. Getting back to the titular “séance” which really only takes about 30 seconds in the movie. They’ve got the ouija board but, sadly, it didn’t come with a planchette (which happens to be the official name of the pointer-thingy that helps our spectral friends spell their words). An empty glass would work in a pinch, though…
And now all that’s left is for each person to put a finger on the glass, ask questions of the spirit world, and let the spooky ghosts practice their spelling…
Wait, what are you doing? You can’t even see what the ghosts are trying to spell! How could they even move the stupid cup with all your hands on it? This isn’t supposed to be a tug-o’-war with the netherworld, guys. They’re incorporeal for pity’s sake.
In any case, they fumble through the séance with some melodramatic reactions to flickering lights and that’s that.
Supposedly, their amateurish attempt to contact the Other Side was enough to irk the currently deceased previous owner of the house and now they’ve got that to deal with. Which mainly comes down to a handful of CG silhouettes added to the film in post-production that none of the actors ever acknowledge plus a few more flickering lights.
While 95% of Ouija Seance is nothing but our four main characters drinking, smoking, and bickering about who did what and why they should be doing something else, the last little bit does get mildly exciting as one of the quartet gets accidentally bludgeoned to death. This leads to a mostly unexplained confrontation in the witchcraft room and our favorite caretaker suddenly forgetting how his beloved axe works.
In conclusion, for the TL;DR crowd… caveat emptor. Paying to stream or rent a movie sight unseen is great when you’re trying to all avoid spoilers. However, you should be aware that there are studios out there who rely on you not being able to distinguish a blockbuster from a mockbuster based on poster art and movie title alone.