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The Ouija board has been a convenient prop and MacGuffin in horror movies for decades, and one is a centerpiece of Jonah Lives, though the rules are a bit different than we're used to. The film itself is mediocre, with a few bright spots.
We begin with two young women, Lydia and Barbara (Nicole Lasala and Jocelyn Padilla) watching a few male friends play two on two football. (Note that this stuck out to me as something unrealistic. Two on two football? Who does that?) Lydia is dating Tony (James Barrett) and Barbara is dating Johnny (Rob Roy), while Jessie (Aaron Peaslee) is the wimpy friend, and Francis (Ryan Boudreau) is the pseudo-intellectual friend. It's possible I've mixed up these names or relationships a bit. Most of these characters aren't super distinct.
Tiring of football, they soon repair to Francis's house where they must hang out in the basement, since Francis's parents are upstairs having a somewhat adult party. They become bored, so Francis runs upstairs to fetch a Ouija board, pausing only to talk some "not as smart as it wants to be" talk with his younger sister. He also meets Zora (Brinke Stevens), a lecherous cougar who brags about how wonderful her life is now that her husband is dead. Back in the basement, Francis and Johnny argue about messing around with the Ouija board. Johnny would be fine with just two using it, but all six of them would have dire consequences. Exactly why is unclear. Of course, the other five move forward and dire consequences ensue, involving one reanimated corpse, Jonah (Cesar Pereira), who is upset that his wife murdered him and has not been punished.
The actors in Jonah Lives are all decent. Not great, but competent. And there are moments where they show real skill. Padilla has an emotional moment toward the end that is very compelling. But these actors are hampered by a scattered and ill thought out script, with awkward dialogue and odd exchanges. The pseudo-philosophical arguments about Ouija, etc. simply aren't believable from these people, or any people. So, otherwise good actors come off as clumsy when asked to talk this way. The story itself meanders and can't manage to build or maintain any real tension, though in a lot of ways it wants to be a slow burn horror story. On the other hand, the blood and makeup effects are exceptionally good, especially for an obviously low budget film like this one. The Jonah makeup is great, and the sequence where he climbs up out of his grave is chilling. A character dies after an asthma attack, and the blue lips, etc. are spot on. The same kind of skill is evident in the technical aspects of the film: lighting, camera work, set dressing, etc. But the story and dialogue just do not work. In sum, it's a mixed bag. Rent It.
The aspect ratio is a wide 2.35:1, and the film generally looks good. The image is very clear, especially in the opening scenes in the football field. The colors are rich, as are the shadows, though the action is never obscured.
The audio is Dolby digital 2 channel, and is a little more problematic than the visuals. The dialogue is muffled at times and a bit difficult to make out. The lack of subtitles makes this frustrating. But for the most part we can understand what is being said. No hiss or other problem is audible. No alternate language track is included.
A few extras are included, in addition to a slew of Wild Eye trailers. They are:
Behind the Scenes Teaser
At just under a minute, this is what it sounds like: bits and bobs of behind the scenes footage.
Behind the Scenes with Brinke Stevens
This is four minutes of behind the scenes shots which involve Ms. Stevens.
Fall River Celebrates the Arts! Screening
A couple of brief introductions and audience reactions at a festival screening.
Original Teaser Trailer
A decent trailer that runs to 1:31.
A slightly longer trailer.
Jonah Lives is a creditable effort at slow burn horror, and technically quite adept. It can't rise above the awkward and scattered script, though. The actors struggle with the dialogue and it's never very frightening, though there are a few very cool tableaux. This is one to check out, but don't expect to be blown away.