Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)

No telling what you’ll see.

Remember the 2004 flick Ouija? Well, I don’t — that’s because I never saw it. After being ripped to shreds by a majority of critics, I opted to take the easy way out by avoiding it altogether. Poor reception aside, the flick went on to gross 103.6 million worldwide on a measly 5 million dollar budget, those figures more frightening than any sinister ‘talking board.’ I guess money ‘talks,’ too, because here we are with the inevitable sequel, or in this case prequel, Ouija: Origin of Evil. Be that as it may, producers Michael Bay, Andrew Form and Bradley Fuller, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), along with Jason Blum, Insidious (2010), have mercifully injected new blood into the supernatural series by means of changing directors, previous helmer Stiles White replaced with visionary filmmaker Mike Flanagan: the result, a terrifyingly solid improvement.

Set in 1967, fifty years before its predecessor, Ouija: Origin of Evil tells the story of the Zander girls, headed by the down-and-out Alice (Elizabeth Reaser), a widowed mother who’s fraught with raising her two daughters — 15-year-old Paulina (Annalise Basso) and 9-year-old Doris (Lulu Wilson) — all by her lonesome, a year and a half after her husband was tragically killed in a car accident. Luckily for Alice, and her struggling séance business, the occult runs in the family. See, Alice has learned all the tricks of the trade from her fortuneteller mother, the former putting on a well-intentioned but phony sideshow for Californian residents who wish to speak with their deceased loved ones — the fraudulent clairvoyant convinced that she’s bringing closure to people’s lives, the type she wishes to find herself.

'I see you.'
‘I see you.’

Enter the trendy board game, Ouija — that’s oddly still being sold by the folks at Hasbro today — which Alice purchases to spruce up her act in the hope of luring more paying customers. Alas, once the ‘new prop’ is brought into her abode, weird things start to happen: you know the deal, creepy noises, strange dreams and the family youngin’ begins to act like a sinister horror movie kid, dispensing long stares whilst smiling and popping up behind unsuspecting others. Although Alice believes that Doris’ gift is a blessing — with business a-boomin’ and satisfied clients a plenty — her teenage daughter Paulina becomes more and more suspicious, her worries eventually unearthing the true history of their house — the same house that was actually seen in the earlier film.

Straight off the bat, it’s pretty obvious that writer-director Mike Flanagan knows that he’s dealing with schlocky material here and has oodles of fun with it, chiefly his campy ’60s setting, Flanagan craftily creating a 35mm-type look with a digital lens, the flick opening with an old-school Universal logo and a vintage title card — heck, he even dots cue marks throughout, you know, those little cigarette burn thingys that were used to alert projectionists that a reel change was on the way. That said, Flanagan and cinematographer Michael Fimognari, Oculus (2013), keep things visually interesting by means of using evocative photography with uncanny Brian De Palma-esque split-diopter scenes, some ghoulish shots of the ominous board game and the inclusion of an Insidious-type oily black creature (played by Doug Jones). That’s not all, Flanagan and co-writer Jeff Howard, Before I Wake (2016), also go nuts with the signifiers of the era; there’s background chatter about man’s endeavor to reach the moon, along with a revelation that links back to the Holocaust and the crazed Nazi experiments of the time.

Siblings: A special gift to you from Hell.
Siblings: A special gift to you from Hell.

Even so, both Flanagan and Howard never lose sight of the bigger picture, the pair building a convincing dynamic between the three leading ladies, their relationship essentially standing as the heart of the story — the titular board game simply existing as a minor prop and piece of enforced product placement. Having said that, Elizabeth Reaser does a bang-up job as the Zander matriarch Alice, the 41-year-old Twilight (2008) star juggling the character’s inner suffering with genuine personality whilst totally selling a flirty romantic subplot with a wistful priest, Father Tom (Henry Thomas). Lulu Wilson, Deliver Us from Evil (2014), is stellar as the source of the flick’s evil, the young horror veteran balancing the wickedness and innocence of Doris — her eerie slow-talking monologue, where she explains what it’s like to be strangled to death, will no doubt send chills down viewers’ spines. Last, but certainly not least, is Annalise Basso, Captain Fantastic (2016), who excels as the intelligent and strong-minded Paulina, a nuanced character who’s tasked with a lot of the heavy lifting.

Although somewhat low on gore, Ouija: Origin of Evil still manages to deliver an unsettling atmosphere and enough ghastly imagery to amuse the horror crowd whilst scaring the bejeebers out of everyone else. My only gripe with the movie, however, comes with its disappointing final act, which has clearly been hindered by the constraints of its inferior source material. After a solid build-up, with filmmakers carving characters we kinda care about, it’s unfortunate that the narrative begins to fall apart the closer it gets to its clunky resolution and subsequent climactic tie-ins. Had Flanagan been given further creative control, I feel that we would’ve ended up a more satisfying overall picture.

'Honey, I think your daughter is possessed.'
‘Honey, I think your daughter is possessed.’

Working as both a stand-alone story and a follow-up, Ouija: Origin of Evil is a solid entry into the ‘evil toy’ subgenre. With a first-rate cast, a wonderfully nostalgic yet equally unnerving aesthetic and a few subtle nods to 1973’s The Exorcist, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better ‘scary movie’ this Halloween! And oh, fans of the 2014 flick (if there are any at all) should stick around for a little after credits scene featuring Lin Shaye that connects the two pictures together!

3.5 / 5 – Great

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

Ouija: Origin of Evil is released through Universal Pictures Australia