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Credit: Universal Pictures

Chosen One of the Day: Michael J. Fox dreamily saying "whoa" in The Frighteners

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May 13, 2019

Depicting the hereafter in films is always challenge. How do you encapsulate an experience that is both transcendental and unfathomable? A light at the end of the tunnel? The traditional Pearly Gates? Reunite the Backstreet Boys for a heavenly round of “Backstreet’s Back”? (Oh, wait, you can’t do that, This is the End already beat you to it.)

Or, in the case of The Frighteners, you let one little syllable doing all the talking.

Peter Jackson famously filmed The Frighteners on a budget so small (I mean, it’s still $26 million, a number that is, for me, completely imaginary) that it’s the reason he was chosen to direct The Lord of the Rings: his creative team’s ability to make a little money look like a lot.

When, towards the end of the film, Michael J. Fox’s Frank Bannister finds himself in heaven, he receives the Far Side treatment of heaven — clouds, blue sky, snarky companions (in the form of Chi McBride, we should be so lucky). He even meets and receives forgiveness from his murdered wife. But when it comes time to leave, you start to wonder, "Uh, how is he gonna get down from there?"

And then it comes. My fellow McBride gives Frank a little tap on the chest and off he falls down a portal, with only a perfectly undersold “whoa” tumbling from his lips. In a film full of ghosts, mummies, ghost-on-mummy shenanigans (be a dear and fetch me my eye bleach), and a confirmed afterlife, this is the sound that knits all of these elements together into a believable, grounded universe.

Whoa, nelly, indeed.

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