Way back in 1973 Linda Blair was using a Ouija board to contact an entity she called Captain Howdy in The Exorcist; decades later we see more kids messing with this “harmless toy” in two films co-produced by Hasbro and Platinum Dunes, and these kids have even less fun then Blair did with demonic spirits. This makes me rather curious about the marketing reasons Hasbro has for making this film; do they think movies that show users of their board game either dying or being possessed will improve sales?
Ouija: Origin of Evil is a prequel to the 2014 film Ouija, which found a group of “dead teenagers” screwing around with a Ouija board while inside a decidedly haunted house, and to say it sucked would be an gross understatement. What’s fascinating here is that this sequel is the rare case of not only being better than the original, and I can count the number of times this has happened on one hand, but it’s also a prequel, and a good one of those is even rarer. In fact I advise any viewer to skip seeing the original altogether, if possible, as not seeing it will most likely improve your viewing experience of this one.
Taking place in the late 60s the basic story here is about a family dealing with the death of the patriarch, with some of the family members doing a better job at this than others, and trying to make ends meet by performing fake séances and psychic readings. The mother/widow Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) operates a tricked out séance table while her two daughters, teenage Lina (Annalise Basso) and nine-year-old daughter Doris (Lulu Wilson), work from hiding to ensure the rubes believe that their dearly departed are really making contact. Unfortunately five dollars a reading isn’t going to stop the bank from foreclosing on their home; and this leads to Alice bringing home a Ouija board as a new prop.
The movie spends the right amount of time having us get to know our three main characters, many films forgets this important element and thus the audiences forgets to give a shit about them when the terror starts and the body count rises, but writer/director Mike Flanagan, who gave us the excellent horror film Oculus (replacing hack director Stiles White), goes with the slow build of terror instead of just going with gore and jump scares. Much in the vein of the original Poltergeist when obvious supernatural events start to happen the mom at first thinks it’s cool, and it certainly improve the séances a lot, and even when the shit starts to hit the fan the mother remains in denial for excellent character based reasons. This leaves solving the horrifying mystery to the eldest daughter; who doesn’t believe her dead father is chatting up her little sister. Lucky for her they go to a Catholic school and she can consult with the principal Father Tom (Henry Thomas).
Ouija: Origin of Evil is a well-crafted horror movie that does not rely on jump scares, it does have some but Flanagan doesn’t hammer the audience with loud musical stings to create an artificial jump, what he does instead is gives us an atmosphere of dread and menace, with things you catch just out of the corner of your eye to give you that jolt. The cast all do fantastic jobs here, with a special shout out to Annalise Basso who also starred in Flanagan’s Oculus, as she the film’s center and the audience identification figure; she even has a great moment where she demands they stay together because, “Splitting up seems like the stupidest idea ever.” You have to admire that in a horror movie character. Unfortunately common sense will only get you so far and a little sister who seems to be channeling dark forces may be too much for her to handle.
“I see dead people.”
As this is a prequel there is of course several nods to how it all connects to the first movie, but what looked lame and unscary in Ouija actually works perfectly well here; the sewing of the mouth shut being a prime example of this as we actually get more context as to why it’s happening and not just because “It looks cool.” Now Ouija: Origin of Evil is far from being perfect movie, the CGI demon wasn’t very convincing and reminded of how jarring the demon in Insidious was, and the second act could have tightened the pacing up a tad, but these are minor quibbles for a horror movie I can heartily recommend.
Note: This prequel origin story takes place in the 60s while in Ouija we were told these events happened in the 50s. Clearly Flanagan had more feel for that era so he ignored that little tidbit from the original, and he does do a great job making the film look as if it was shot during the 60s right down to putting in the “cigarette burn” reel change markers and using the period appropriate Universal logo.