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A Double-Feature Review of "The Ouija Experiment" (2011) and "The Frozen" (2012)

I saw two movies back-to-back in October that made the exact same mistakes despite having dramatically different plots, tones, and settings.

One of those movies was The Ouija Experiment, a low-budget found footage horror that involves a group of victims summoning a murderous spirit and then getting dispatched one by one.  The Ouija Experiment tries to be a comedy when it can and takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to its content whenever it doesn't involve characters being spooked by shadows.

The other move was The Frozen, another low-budget piece set in the cold, isolated wilderness of... Canada, I guess?  Anyway, this one involves a young couple who plan to go camping, but suffer a snowmobile accident that leaves them stranded.  As they buckle down in their tent, they suspect they are being hunted by someone - or something.

I can't honestly say that I enjoyed either film very much.  They both had their merits, and if either one of them was made by a friend of mine who wanted to show me what s/he can do with a camera, I'd be impressed.  But they both feel amateurish at best.

Worse: they both try to get too clever for their own good.

It's more noticeable in The Ouija Experiment, whose humor ends up bringing the movie down.  Every chance they can get, the characters will have snide little conversations or make snarky comments that just end up ringing false.  It's like watching a couple of too-cool-for-school teenagers give you their opinions about the tabloids at a supermarket checkout lane. Nobody gives a shit, guys.  You're supposed to be crapping your pants in terror and running away from ghosts, not being snotty about Youtube videos.

(Also, one more quick gripe on the side: I hated that literally every character picks up the camera at some point and looks into it while saying something to the effect of, "Is this on?"  This is not only a cliche, but it's about the least clever "clever" thing you can do in a found footage movie.  Hell, I made a short movie with this cliche once - ten years ago.  See also: my complaints about Mr. Jones.)

What's really unfortunate, though, is that when it stops trying to be clever and just goes back to the basics, The Ouija Experiment is actually a scary movie sometimes.  There's moments when you catch a glimpse of somebody walking in the background, and the character with the camera goes to investigate... then finds nobody there.  These moments are Horror Movie 101 type stuff, but they work.  The reason you see those cliches in big budget productions is because they're scary and they're always going to be.

The Frozen fares far worse.  Like The Ouija Experiment, it tries to be more than just a survival thriller.  Unlike The Ouija Experiment, it doesn't even get that part right - so it ends up failing on all levels.

What you quickly realize is that the filmmakers wanted to use the survival premise to construct A) a deep, three-dimensional portrayal of a relationship with subtle indications of its failure, and B) a metaphysical spiritual tale of redemption and acceptance in the face of imminent death.  The problem is that neither of these two elements are particularly engaging.  The relationship between the two leads is frustrating to watch since they're both kind of annoying people who don't talk to each other, and the metaphysical stuff just feels like a cheat since it comes out of nowhere.

And because the filmmakers were so obsessed with those pieces, the survival aspect is just plain boring.  Most of the movie is spent in the protagonists' tent while you watch one of the leads eat various snacks out of a cooler.  It's one of the dullest things I've seen in ages.

It's shocking that these scenes don't work - you don't need to do that much to make it interesting.  You guys ever see Alive?  Most of that movie is just people hanging out in a wrecked airplane and complaining about how hungry they are, but it's engaging because you get some great cinematography and framing to remind you of just how screwed and isolated they are.  The Frozen is filmed almost entirely in tight-angle shots.  You never get a sense of setting or place, so it never actually feels like the characters are lost.  It looks like they went into their backyard and forgot they could go inside to warm up again.

I hate to trash on these movies because it's clear they're both made by novice filmmakers and it's clear there's some genuine talent on display.  If any of the cast or crew from either movie ends up reading this, I hope you guys understand: I'm not trying to be a dick.  I think you have a good first draft on your hands, but you got over-ambitious and didn't put a nice finish on the basics.  Go back and simplify, and you'll end up with a much better film.

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