As everyone is always blatantly aware, there’s a stigma regarding sequels. And I’m not sure where the stance usually is accredited to horror sequels but they’re never regarded with a glow of positivity. Can it be helped when the predecessor was a mere stain on the winding line of pointless horror entries?

Hush and Oculus director Mike Flanagan helms the sequel to 2014’s most derivative teen horror flick Ouija. Gasps were exclaimed upon reveal, but those who’ve witnessed Flanagan’s previous pieces of work should have known that this wouldn’t be no ordinary sequel.

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Set in 1965 Los Angeles, a widowed mother and her two daughters decide to include a Ouija board to their scam seance business in their home to heighten the experience for their customers. When the youngest daughter takes a liking to the board, however, an unlikely spirit makes welcome as it is unwittingly invited into their home and into the physical body of the minor. The family must attempt to save her, alongside the school priest, and banish the possessor back to the other side.

Sounds painfully derivative again, right? You’d be forgiven in thinking Ouija: Origin of Evil would just be another notch in “one of those releases at Halloween to provide a quick buck or two to the easy-pleasing audiences of today” but alas, Flanagan’s provided a little more bite than Universal’s Ouija series might have initially expected.

First and foremost: the characters. Whilst Ouija played it safe with a bunch of unknown teenagers, screaming and flailing their possessed limbs around an abandoned bleak house, its sequel hits home, literally, as a tight-knit family, having survived personal trauma, becomes targeted.

Mother Alice (Elizabeth Reaser) is attempting to keep her business afloat, raise two daughters and have a life of her own. The eldest daughter Lina (Flanagan’s Oculus co-star Annalise Basso) is going through the motions as alcohol and boys are making their way into her life, but is forced to face reality as a heavy provider for her downtrodden family. And finally youngest Doris (Lulu Wilson), a shamelessly adorable girl forced to face the darkness as her body proves as the family’s greatest and deadliest pawn as she’s tapped into her psychic abilities to both help the family business in giving accurate readings as well as tarnishing it on behalf of her physical invader. And she sports an authentic 60’s Bewitched flip hairstyle to top it off. One of Universal’s dozen ingenious tactics to authenticate this film as a desired effect is an on-going trait throughout the entire film. It’s generally unnecessary but laces in an era where the Ouija board proved more prominent.

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Grief, loss and general family dynamics are spun effortlessly by three core performances, all equally as strong as each other as the two eldest, Reaser and Basso, are two genuine talents, the latter proving a distinguishable range of emotions in both of Flanagan’s pieces that she’s featured. Youngster Wilson blatantly has fun as the villain of the piece, transcending from innocent and appealing and peels into a sincerely unhinged individual, sporting crazy eyes and monologues about the processes of strangulation that will send shivers down your spine.

Whilst the scares are there, they’re infrequent enough to indulge yourself in the situations of these characters, and the story worthy enough to become invested. It’s been done before a thousand times, sure, but there’s a point in Flanagan’s Ouija that you realise that you actually care about these characters — a running routine for horror in 2016; look to The Conjuring 2 and Lights Out, both sporting similar traits.

A sour taste left from 2014’s Ouija is almost entirely gone thanks to this entry. Heartwarming and genuine performances from lesser-known talents prove the film’s greatest asset, but Flanagan’s always interesting directorial quirks gives this tired plot a burst of much needed energy. A ghoulish premise unearths enough chills for this one to survive all year round and not just a quick Halloween fright.

4/5

Dir: Mike Flanagan

Scr: Mike Flanagan, Jeff Howard

Cast: Elizabeth Reaser, Annalise Basso, Lulu Wilson, Henry Thomas

Prd: Michael Bay, Jason Blum, Andrew Form, Brad Fuller

Music: The Newton Brothers

DOP: Michael Fimognari

Country: USA

Runtime: 99 minutes