Friday, August 4, 2017

"Ouija: Origin of Evil," or: The Horror Trope That Really Freaks Me Out

I'm not sure why, but distorted faces freak me out. I learned this the hard way back in 2003, when a friend and I rented the American remake of "The Ring." Note to self: Don't watch a horror movie on DVD if it's about a cursed VHS tape. It doesn't take much for a "Ring"-addled mind to worry that a DVD has just as much power to kill its viewers as any videotape. I insisted we take the foul object back to the Blockbuster store (remember those?) whence it came. To be specific, here's what did me in: the film's jolting, unexpected, second-long reveal of the corpse of the teen girl killed in the film's opening minutes: cowering in a closet with, as my friend put it, a "boiled face." Just thinking about it still gets to me a little.

Distorted faces in horror movies still freak me out, damn it. "The Ring" was only the beginning. In 2005, a different friend basically dared me to see "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" in the theater. Like the "Ring" remake, "Emily Rose" has its flaws, but it's genuinely creepy at times. The moment that a recently possessed Emily glances at a classmate and thinks his face is melting? 😢 To my supreme chagrin, for quite a few nights after that fateful trip to the theater, I woke up at 3 a.m., supposedly the terrible hour that possessions happen (because Christ was crucified at 3 p.m. and this is the inversion of that, hence Satan's time, blah blah).

And then there's "Ouija: Origin of Evil." At this point, I think it's safe to say I'm a Mike Flanagan fan. I've now seen three of the writer/director's horror movies: "Hush," "Oculus," and "Ouija," and at some point I'll figure out how to watch "Absentia," an earlier work. Like the rest of his oeuvre, "Ouija" features smarter writing and better character development than the average horror film. It also includes a chilling scene in which an unsuspecting teenager is reaching for something inside a basement wall while a possessed little girl watches intently, standing just far enough away to be a little out of focus. And then her face gets all weird and her neck bends and her mouth starts opening and closing ghoulishly.

Stupidly, I watched this while my wife, Liz, was out and the baby slept in the nursery -- at night. The moment her possessed, distorted face started moving around, I stopped the movie, but it was too late -- I was freeeeeaked out. Later, in the kitchen, I looked over my shoulder nervously as I did some dishes. I glanced at the darkened window between the kitchen and laundry room. I hoped my wife would get home soon.

Why do distorted faces freak me out so much? Why are the one of the only reliable horror movie tropes to really get under my skin? I talked about this with Liz once. She suggested it might have something to do with the baseline unnaturalness of seeing a human face warped into strange, boiled, stretched, or otherwise out-of-whack variations. True, it's unnatural, but so are a lot of things you see in horror movies: compound fractures, whitened eyes, flesh-eating -- that sort of stuff.

What is it about melty faces that gets me? I'll have to keep thinking about it. For now, though, I wish the MPAA would consider making an addition to its rating reasons. Can't you just picture it? "Rated R for violence and disturbing images, including melty and/or stretchy faces."

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