The original Ouija - yes, Ouija: Origin of Evil is a sequel, or better yet, a prequel, to a pre-existing horror film that came and went in the blink-of-an-eye back in 2014 - was basically an embodiment of everything that is wrong with the horror genre. From its completely watered-down PG-13 depiction of the supernatural, to its reliance on empty characters and unsatisfying jump-scares, the only practical solution to save the board game's cinematic franchise potential was to basically start over hardly before the series even begun.
With the hiring of director/co-writer Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Hush), the series gets the kind of grounding it needs with Ouija: Origin of Evil, a largely successful extension of the mythology behind the characters and the events. Going backwards in time, we focus on a single family, which is a better, more intimate setup than a group of faceless teenagers stupidly navigating the ins-and-outs of a board game.
Ouija: Origin of Evil
Elizabeth Reaser, Lulu Wilson, Annalise Basso
21 October 2016
Steve's Grade: B
The matriarch of the all-girl family is Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser), a fortune teller, who justifies her huckster ways by saying she specializes in giving her customers closure by making them believe they are communicating with late family or friends. She gets her daughters, teenager Lina (Annalise Basso) and nine-year-old Doris (Lulu Wilson), to assist her at their practice, which is set up in their cutely antique suburban home. Lina suggests to her mother that she find a way to incorporate the classic Ouija board into her act, to which she more-or-less begrudgingly tries one evening.
Soon after she purchases the board, Alice notices behavioral differences in Doris, who becomes more introverted than she normally is and less in-tuned with reality. When she starts to convincingly communicate with her deceased father on the board, and the little planchette begins moving itself, it's confirmed something strange is occurring. Lina becomes disgusted at her mother's encouragement of Doris's increasingly disturbing actions, which leads to the family reaching out to Doris's principal, Father Tom (Henry Thomas) for assistance. From there on out, they're informed of what exactly is haunting them.
There is an unshakable eeriness to Ouija: Origin of Evil even as it's traversing well-charted territory. When we see a blanket being ripped off Lina, Doris's mouth become distended and her pupils dilated, and other supernatural conventions, we recall similar or identical events in films-gone-past that we might not be able to name but we certainly can picture in our heads. Flanagan seems to recognize this, and as a result, does something that people - including Stiles White, the co-writer and director of the original Ouija - forgot to do with many of those same films and that's humanize the characters.
Whether we agree with the Zander family's practices or not, the characters are developed enough where we can feel some sort of connection to them. When Doris begins doing and saying strange things, we are at least a tad curious as to what could be happening. Finally, when we see Lina break down in tears of frustration and fear, we feel a bit more than if a gaggle of faceless, and practically nameless hooligans are shouting and cursing at one another. It almost makes you forgot the reason we've gathered in a dark auditorium is to see a film based on a Hasbro board game.
Couple that with the cinematographical work by Michael Fimognari, which makes this film feel like a classic painting or period-piece come to life with a full-blown, thriller aesthetic and there is much more life here than its sterile predecessor. It feels like an entirely different film/series because it is.
Another one of Ouija's biggest handicaps was its PG-13 rating. The same thing applies to this particular installment mainly during the conclusion, when bloodshed and cause-and-effect moments of violent exchanges could've been furthered developed instead of dismissed in an off-handed manner. With that being said, there's no denying the elegance and improvement with Ouija: Origin of Evil from a miserable, almost juvenile genre-exercise to a more competent and realized film on all cylinders.