Ouija Blood Ritual was released at the start of this month and it is a masterpiece.
I didn’t even want to buy it. It looked like just another micro-budget horror film. But Tempe just put out a Blu-ray of Ozone and even though I have several copies, I had to get this version.
The problem is that Makeflix gives free shipping on orders over $30, and I’m really cheap about that. So I purchased Ouija Blood Ritual. And glad I am that I did!
The film is the brainchild of Dustin Mills. I haven’t seen any of his films before, even though he’s made a dozen and a half features since 2010. He is also a puppeteer, which raises him further in my estimation.
Ouija Blood Ritual tells the story of three 20-somethings who are producing a YouTube video series that recreates rituals meant to summon ghosts and demons. Things like Bloody Mary.
Not surprisingly, their recreation of the summoning of Closet Man (the boogeyman who hides in your closet) actually works. Things go from uncomfortable to unnerving to terrifying from there
The plotting of it subtle and clever. There are a number of very tense points that aren’t necessarily directly related to the plot. Then there is an extra layer of psychological torture going on in the second half of the film that makes it almost unbearable.
It’s constructed as a found-footage narrative with two different groups. The second group’s video exists as a kind of film-within-a-film. But it’s also used effectively at the beginning to set the tone.
One element of the story that heightens its effectiveness is that Closet Man can grab your phone and use it to film what he sees. This is seen at the very start but it gets much more intense as the film unfolds.
What most struck me as I watched the first half-hour of Ouija Blood Ritual was how much I liked the three principal characters. And they all seemed very real. I was surprised to learn that they didn’t have a history of working together. In fact, they mostly hadn’t worked together at all.
The lead is played by Kayla Elizabeth (The Dead Will Rise 2). She’s the on-screen talent for the show who would like to leverage it to get a job in local news. The producer is played by Rob Grant who is understanding of the foibles of his colleagues even if he doesn’t hide his annoyance well. And the cameraman (who is also Kayla’s brother) is played by Dustin Mills himself.
The three come off very much like friends who are working on a project together. Then, when things start going wrong, they respond with the same concern and aggravation that you would expect. The acting was mostly ad-libbed, but I think it speaks well of the actors that they seem like they’ve known each other for years.
Most of the effects in Ouija Blood Ritual are practical or editorial. Digital effects are also used, however. But only once in a major way and always in a way that added to the film.
The sound editing is exquisite — one of the main reasons the film works so well. It mostly consists of electronic noise. But it is how it is used that makes it effective. For example, there is one scene where Dustin is in his room sobbing and speaking into the camera. But all we hear is noise until the sound cuts to what he’s saying, “I can’t, Goddammit!”
I so often find myself annoyed at music in film making me feel things that the rest of the film would not. So it’s nice to not have any here. Even if we admit that noise is music, its use here only heightens what’s already happening. I think the film would still work with only the in situ sound.
As you can tell, I love this film. Now I’m going to have to dig into Dustin Mills’ old films.
The video and sound on the Blu-ray are excellent, but that’s not really my thing. Others may be less impressed.
When I looked carefully at some scenes, I saw a bit of aliasing, which is probably in the source material. And since the film is supposed to be found footage, it isn’t well lit. As with other films like V/H/S, not being able to see details is part of the appeal.
The Blu-ray comes with a commentary by Dustin Mills. As solo-director commentaries goes, it’s pretty good. There is a lot of background information about the production. And I was pleased to hear him discuss the likability of the characters, which was a critical element of my enjoyment.
There is a 7-minute interview with Kayla Elizabeth and 4.5-minute interview with Rob Grant. They don’t add much to what is in the commentary.
The full footage (14:21) of the film-within-a-film adds a bit of context for the production.
The trailer is also included.
Overall, a pretty good release of a great film.
Ouija Blood Ritual cover taken from Amazon under Fair Use.