Movie Review: “Manchester by the Sea”

By Ryan Marshall

There is, however, a third and final film in this sequence, and it might just be the best of the bunch. “Ouija: Origin of Evil” is billed as a sequel to the supposed stinker of its similar namesake from 2014, and months prior to its release, Flanagan was already quite open as to how he felt about that film. It was a career move that was sure to turn a couple heads, but anyone who knows anything of the director’s past work knows that he goes all-in or not at all; his commitment to the project left little room to doubt that it was one which allowed his creativity to flourish.

Los Angeles, 1967: a family of three — Alice (Elizabeth Reaser) and her two daughters, teenage Lina (Annalise Basso) and young Doris Zander (a truly superb Lulu Wilson) — runs an in-house fortune-telling business that involves scamming customers through séance. Alice would be the first to admit that it’s all a hoax, but she enjoys feeling that they’ve provided clients with some closure in regards to their personal grief.

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One day, she decides to add an Ouija board to the family’s professional repertoire, which immediately piques Doris’s curiosity. Unfortunately, her sporadic use of the device unearths more than few skeletons in the family’s collective closet, one being the absent father figure, whom Doris claims she speaks to through the board.

His spirit is hardly the last or the most malicious to enter through the newly-opened doors which lie between our world and the one(s) beyond. Mother and eldest daughter go through their own separate arcs — with a local priest and much younger romantic interest from school, respectively — though Doris undergoes a transformation of a far more sinister nature, one which is tragically beyond her control.

Once again, Flanagan is deeply fascinated with the deconstruction of the American family, and opts for a slow-burn approach to horror as opposed to delivering a jump-scare a minute, though his point of view doesn’t seem to be one rooted in cynicism. His latest, much like his earlier possessed-mirror pic “Oculus” (from 2013), is more about what keeps us together as opposed to what tears us apart, and also about which secrets should remain unheard of and which ones we should more openly discuss amongst ourselves.

There is something subtly moving about how Flanagan relates paranormal experiences to emotional discharge; there’s also a mature, understated, and entirely intentional feminist streak that runs throughout his filmography thus far.

Here is a genre director who understands all too well that horror films should inspire tears before fits of laughter, and that most simply do not work without some semblance of subtext. While he’s not trying to reinvent the wheel narratively, Flanagan’s technique is so consistently impeccable that one believes, in the moment, that he might as well be doing so.

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