The stars align at B&S About Movies once again!
As Sam put together his “Exploring: Ouija Boards” feature, we came to review screenwriter John Oak Dalton’s directing efforts The Girl in the Crawlspace and Scarecrow Country. Delving into his resume then exposed us to his joint efforts with fellow Ohio-based writer/director Henrique Couto. Making his debut in 2003, Couto finally made a splash in the indie-horror streaming realms with the well-received Babysitter Murders (2013).
Starring the familiar and thespin-just-fine Erin R. Ryan and Joni Durian from that Couto effort, as well as Oak Dalton’s two directing efforts, which also starred John Bradley Hambrick, screenwriter Dan Wilder crafts an intelligent feature film debut that refreshes the overdone “Ouija” genre.
So lets crack open Ouija Room written by Dan Wilder and directed by Henrique Couto.
A perky Joni Durian shines as Sylvia: a lonely, agoraphobic woman who also suffers with autism. To occupy her time, her brother picks up a stack of used board games from an old brick and mortar video store (complete with a wall of ’80s arcade games!): one of the games is a Ouija board. Pining for friends, Sylvia, like Regan MacNeil before her, quickly falls under the spell of the spirits summonsed: a ’60s “rat pack” gangster, an alcoholic, rebellious goth chick (an obvious fan of the Misfits), and a morbid, Shirley Temple-esque little girl.
As usual, the hypercritical streaming hoards come into this expecting an A24 or Blumhouse shock-scare fest. Well, I enjoyed Durian’s realistic portrayal of the psychiatrist in The Girl in the Basement and I equally enjoyed her tempered journey of Sylvia’s child-like innocence into her slowly improving mental state, and deteriorating that innocent side as the spirits make their real intentions, known: they need her and her brother’s blood in a murder-suicide ritual. Equally solid are John Bradley Hambrick and Erin R. Ryan (opposite of her troubled woman in The Girl in the Basement) as the put-upon brother and girlfriend in their dealing with the career and relationship pressures attributed to Sylvia’s spiraling illness.
As with John Oak Dalton’s scripts for his own directorial work, Dan Wilder’s work also eschews CGI special effects and cheap, major studio shock-scares for a psychological tale that allows its fully-arched characters to shine (Hambrick struggles with unemployment and writer’s block; he struggles with placing Sylvia in an assisted care facility). Sure, when Hambrick’s Sammy comes to have a realistic vision of his dead mother warning of the coming danger to Sylvia, it doesn’t have the scope of Lin Shayne battling computer-generated spirits. Then again: these indie-horror streamers are against the budget, so how can they and why are Amazon-to-Tubi streamers expecting such? (Sammy’s bedroom scene, and another bedroom scene with Sylvia, reminds of Dennis Devine’s Dead Girls: so all is streaming-fine, over yonder.)
In the end, guys like John Oak Dalton, Dan Wilder, and Henrique Couto were raised on the same shot-on-tape and released-to-video era of the analog ’80s that we lament and pontificate about at B&S About Movies to your ad nauseam chagrin. Their joint ambitions to raise the bar on the celluloid horrors of the analog old in these digital days gives me the warm, retro-fuzzies with a streamy, hot coco chaser.
Initially making the festival rounds in 2019 as Haunting Inside, the film was picked up for worldwide streaming and DVD through ITN Distribution in 2021. So now, after its initial Amazon stream, you cand enjoy Ouija Room as a free-with-ads stream on Tubi.
And be sure to visit our reviews of the SOV-era under our SOV category . . . and we stuck a few 16-to-35 mm drive-in flicks in there, as well, for one delicious, nostalgic home video-shelved stew.
About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies and Medium.