We're going to get you. We're going to get you. Not another peep. Time to go to sleep.
Ouija: Origin of Evil is the 2016 prequel to 2014's Ouija, being directed and edited by Mike Flanagan and starring Elizabeth Reaser, Annalise Basso, Lulu Wilson, Parker Mack, and Henry Thomas.
If there's one thing that dedicated cinephiles don't normally do, it's that they don't give some concept that fails badly the first time a second chance. It's not like any passionate movie goer walked out of the first Ouija movie and proclaimed to the world, "Well, that was a piece of shit, but I think the Ouija board deserves a second chance. I hope they make another one." Make a great, memorable movie, and people will eat it up no questions asked, maybe even ask for seconds. But make a crappy movie, and people will pray they never see another one like it. There's like some imaginative law with critics and audiences that if your concept isn't executed properly the first time around, then it's immediately off to the guillotine, because a second failed attempt at some particular movie concept is a sin against all of human nature.
If you're familiar at all with the first Ouija movie (and I highly recommend you be so before you continue reading this review), then it's not hard at all to see that it's pretty terrible. It has cliches out the wazoo, bad acting, and wickedly awful writing. So if you had the misfortune of seeing Ouija during its initial release, then surely seeing trailers for Ouija: Origin of Evil would send burning rushes of pain through your retina. Why didn't these morons learn their lesson that a Ouija board movie doesn't work? What could they possibly stand to gain from a second one? Turns out, they actually did gain something: newfound respect for a concept that initially seemed silly and pointless. And you know why? Because Ouija: Origin of Evil is a seriously creepy horror film that is a major improvement over its lackluster predecessor.
Given to us here is a look at the family that was cursed by the Ouija board before the bonehead teenagers in Ouija that were able to get it years later. Taking place in 1967 Los Angeles, the Zander family, consisting of the mother Alice (Elizabeth Reaser), the 15 year old, rebellious teenager Lina (Annalise Basso), and 9 year old Doris (Lulu Wilson), are all coping with the recent loss of their husband/father, Roger (Michael Weaver). The family is also struggling with finances, evident by a foreclosure sign that is posted on their front door early on in the movie. Alice and her two daughters run a scam at their house as a means to make money. They act together as a spiritual medium to "help" individuals and families get into contact with deceased loved ones. One night, Lina sneaks out to be with some of her friends, and they decide to play a Ouija board game together. Lina gets caught, but she tells her mother about the Ouija game and convinces her to go buy one in order to improve upon their scam. The rules of the game are just as they were explained in Ouija: don't play by yourself, don't play in a graveyard, and always say goodbye. Doris decides to try the board out herself, of course, and this leads to her unknowingly getting into contact with a spirit named Marcus. Marcus possesses Doris and slowly begins to cause disturbing changes in her.
Almost everything that Ouija got wrong, Mike Flanagan and company get right. And since he felt it was appropriate, Flanagan decided to give the film a retro feel to it. This is evident from the many post-production additions that Flanagan added on top of the fact that the movie was shot digitally. There is a "cigarette burn" in the top right corner of the frame every 15-20 minutes, and Flanagan utilizes various other retro techniques to make it seem as if his film was shot during 1971. He even goes so far as to use a retro version of the Universal logo (the one from 1963-1990). So while most of what Ouija: Origin of Evil has to offer might seem repetitive of Ouija, it feels brand new because of how much of a massive overhaul that Flanagan provides, as well as how he adds new elements on top.
- The acting is vastly improved upon, with the stand-out being Lulu Wilson. Wilson has the most demanding role in the entire film, going from complete innocence to evil, possessed girl that causes havoc for everyone else. Whatever the script asks for her to do, she nails it, being the main reason why the film is unsettling. Wilson's creepiest scene is when she talks with Lina's boyfriend Mikey (Parker Mack) as he is leaving her house one night. Wilson asks Mikey about what he thinks it feels like to get strangled to death. She then describes being strangled to death as if it was a show-and-tell item that she was showing off at school with the utmost confidence.
- Mike Flanagan's direction when it comes to setting up and executing the scare moments is uneven. Some of the scares are your atypical over-the-top loud noise jump scares, but there are also a few moments where Flanagan simply shows you the scary object without a loud noise. There are even some false scares that happen once in a great while. However, Flanagan allows you to pull back and temporarily relax when the false scares happen, treating them like silly jokes to reinforce the idea that the movie isn't totally humorless. In other words, the scares are all over the place, muddling how scared you could be feeling throughout.
Henry Thomas plays Father Tom Hogan, the principal at Lina and Doris' school who learns of the Zander's happenings with the Ouija board and eventually becomes involved with Doris' possession. You can see him being that cliched "expert on strange thing that is happening" character, but it's a cliche that Flanagan is able to dodge gracefully. And with his recent successful track record with the likes of the underrated Oculus and Hush, there was at least some hope initially to think that this Ouija follow-up was going to be at least a minor improvement over the 2014 clunker.
From writing, acting, and especially direction, Ouija: Origin of Evil allows us the rare chance to forgive the failings of a trashy horror movie from a time ago. It may have some cliches like a possessed young girl, and the scares are impossible to pin down, but the experience as a whole is a satisfying one that will give you some chills. Here's to hoping more bad movies down the road get redemption.
Recommend? Yes, though I suggest that you see Ouija first, unfortunately.
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