Retro Done Right

Have you seen Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)? I only got around recently to watching it – mostly because I was unimpressed by the first Ouija movie in 2014, and had such low expectations for a second installment in the franchise.

When I finally did decide to press play, it was just to give myself some background noise while cleaning. That was the intention, at least.

It’s high praise that not even ten minutes into my chores, I had abandoned my dustpan and migrated to the couch. This movie hooked me good, and I sat there completely absorbed until the end credits.

The story did not surprise me, but the quality did. The costumes, light, set, and sound design all work well together to deliver an immersive 1970s vibe. The female leads have authentic chemistry, and I was rooting for them to overcome their misfortune. In this story, a young mother works from home as a purported psychic. She knows she is a charlatan, yet rationalizes her deception as helpful to those seeking closure in their grief. Assisting her deception are two daughters, the elder a psychic skeptic and the younger an emergent psychic of true power. I can’t say more without spoilers, but I can say this:

I love a good retro film. Yes, days gone by had (beyond) their share of badness and pain, but I do miss the texture of certain things – yellow refrigerators, mod dresses, action figures in cereal boxes. And one of my favorite things about retro films is watching how screenwriters choose to navigate a pre-WIFI world. Especially in horror movies, the plot hinges on the ease with which characters can 1) access information, and 2) call for help.

If you’re in the mood for a speculative film, something grainy and occult with a good splash of fashion, I recommend Ouija: Origin of Evil. It’s got a balanced combination of action and heart, and the 70’s tone feels natural throughout without resorting to camp exploitation.

However, if you’re in a 1980s kind of mood, I have an even better option: The House of the Devil (2009). It’s not a genuinely old film, but could easily pass for one – the look and atmosphere is as perfect as any pulp classic.

The House of the Devil takes place during the sensationalized satanic panic of the 1980s. I don’t mind the slow burn of this quiet film, because it’s engaging to look at. Jocelin Donahue is perfectly cast as a broke college student who, with the promise of $400 for one night of work, accepts the world’s most suspicious babysitting gig. She’s too focused on green to notice red flags everywhere, and ends up in a remote mansion far from…anyone or anything benign.

The real triumph of this film is how effortless it feels. Watching Donahue wander around the oak paneled home with her Walkman, rocking her blowout and dialing for pizza on the rotary phone, I felt transported. It took me back to my teenage years, being that babysitter, isolated in a stranger’s home at night. When the kids are asleep, it really comes into focus how out of place you are.

Ouija: Origin of Evil and The House of the Devil are by no means uplifting or flawless films, but I love the attention to atmosphere in each of them. The creators were clearly dedicated in portraying their universe, and being able to go back in time so realistically feels as magical as any high fantasy.