In 2014, the cinematic world was “treated” to the movie Ouija. A poorly constructed bore-fest of a horror film that inexplicably made over $100 million worldwide on a small budget. This success means we were to be besieged by a prequel which no one seemed to be asking for. Director Mike Flanagan’s Hush had hit Netflix some months prior to its release and did offer some hope that maybe we would see something of more promise from the Ouija franchise.
Set in the late 1960’s, Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) works as a fraudulent spiritual medium alongside her two daughters Lina (Annalise Basso) and Doris (Lulu Wilson). Lina suggests that her mother should incorporate a ouija board into her act and Doris seemingly becomes a conduit for actual spirits from the other side. Alice is thrilled, believing that the board can allow them to actually help people resolve their issues with loved ones who have passed, such as her recently deceased husband. However, Lina suspects something more sinister is afoot as Doris begins to act stranger and stranger.
Origin of Evil is a far superior film than its predecessor, with characters who feel wholly drawn and are equally well rounded out with strong performances from the ensemble. The family dynamic that Flanagan focuses upon, and their differing reactions to the loss of a loved one, provide a strong narrative focus throughout the film. Lulu Wilson excels as the possessed Doris, giving an unnerving performance and serving as a terrific antagonist. If there is a complaint to levy at Ouija: Origin of Evil, it is that it’s not exactly a scary film. The drama works and entices interest, and the characters are interesting and thoughtful enough to retain the attention, but despite some unnerving sequences, there is no real dread to encompass the movie. In the final act, when all the finer plot points have been revealed, the film simply becomes a set of mild scares and less compelling action to tie in to what will eventually become Ouija. DOP Michael Fimognari manages to capture the period setting with aplomb: the addition of artificial cue marks within the film mimicking the reel change requirements of the older movies that Origin of Evil takes its inspiration from is an appealing touch, as is the retro Universal Studios logo (1963-1990) that opens the movie.
Mike Flanagan has clearly dedicated a lot of time and care with his construction of this prequel and has continued to cement his ever-burgeoning reputation within the horror film industry. Though the movie does lack the atmosphere of a true horror classic, and is impeded by its ties to the lesser predecessor film, he has managed to make an entertaining, thoughtfully written and enthusiastically performed feature. This film is worth seeing for genre fans, and Flanagan’s name is clearly one to look out for over the next few years.
Dir: Mike Flanagan
Scr: Mike Flanagan, Jeff Howard
Cast: Elizabeth Reaser, Annalise Basso, Lulu Wilson, Henry Thomas, Lin Shaye, Doug Jones
Prd: Michael Bay, Jason Blum, Bradley Fuller, Andrew Form, Brian Goldner, Stephen Davis
DOP: Michael Fimognari
Music: The Newton Brothers
Run time: 99 minutes
Ouija: Origin of Evil is out now on DVD and Blu-ray.