Monday, October 1, 2018

Dustin Mills' Ouija: Blood Ritual

Cody takes a look at the latest film from director Dustin Mills.

I'm not generally a fan of found footage movies. I'll give one a chance from time to time, but it's very rare that I'll find them to be entertaining. Even though I have a lack of enthusiasm for this style of filmmaking, director Dustin Mills' found footage movie Ouija: Blood Ritual is one I was looking forward to watching, and not just because I'll watch anything Mills makes regardless of the style. I also trusted him to do something worthwhile with the found footage concept; after all, he already made one of the most unique found footage movies I've ever seen, the 2014 "serial killers target puppets" movie Snuffet.

The set-up for this one is perfectly simple: a trio of Ohio filmmakers working on a web series about the paranormal perform the wrong ritual and stir up a dangerous supernatural being. That's about what you'd expect from the average found footage movie, from there it's all about the characters and the execution of the story. What Mills managed to do with Ouija that made it stand apart from most found footage movies I've seen is that he made sure the three main characters are actually good, solid characters who were interesting to watch. I enjoyed spending time with them, even when they weren't in imminent danger from the supernatural.

The dialogue in the film was improvised, so credit for the strength of these characters is shared between Mills, who also plays cameraman / sound recordist Dustin in the movie, and his co-stars Kayla Elizabeth (as Kayla, Dustin's sister and the host of their web series) and Rob Grant (as Rob, Kayla's college friend and collaborator). If their improv didn't hold up and if we didn't buy their interactions, the movie wouldn't work at all - but as it is, they have a very natural chemistry with each other and each of them did a great job bringing their characters to life, making them come across as real people with depth. I was impressed by all three of them and look forward to following their work in future projects.

In his commentary, Mills mentions that he would like to do more acting, and I would strongly encourage other filmmakers out there to give him a role in your movie, as he's a director who has skills in front of the camera as well. I had previously seen Elizabeth in Mills' short film Don't Answer the Door and I know they have done more work together (they just wrapped a movie called Slaughterhouse Slumber Party), so I'm glad I'll have more Mills/Elizabeth collaborations to watch after this one.

Most of Ouija: Blood Ritual consists of footage shot for the characters' web series and behind-the-scenes footage from the making of their show. They delve into some existing urban legends, with Kayla first trying to contact Bloody Mary and later reciting a cursed poem ("Tomino's Hell") that is said to bring misfortune to anyone who reads it, but then Mills introduces a legend he created for this film: a ritual involving blood and a Ouija board that is performed to summon an evil entity called the Closet Man.

Anyone who was afraid the boogeyman lived in their bedroom closet when they were a kid can connect with the concept of the Closet Man, and once the ritual is performed the Closet Man turns out to be a much bigger threat than Bloody Mary or the curse of Tomino's Hell. It takes a while - more than half of the film's 81 minute running time - for the Closet Man to really become a presence, but the build-up to his arrival is worth it. Once he does show up, things get strange and creepy, and I didn't like seeing bad things happen to these people... Even though that's what you go into a movie like this expecting to see...

I thought Ouija: Blood Ritual would be more enjoyable than most found footage movies that have crossed my path, but this was even better than I was expecting it to be thanks to the performances of Mills and his co-stars. If you're a fan of this style of film, you should definitely check this one out, and if you're not into found footage you might like this one despite the style.

This is a movie I will be rewatching multiple times down the line, and when I do I'll be glad to be hanging out with these characters again.

DVD copies of Ouija: Blood Ritual can be purchased through Grindhouse Video. Special features include director's commentary and bonus footage.

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