A couple of years ago, Ouija hit theaters and lived down to expectations, which were considerably low considering the movie was based on a board game. So it’s easy to forgive someone for not brimming with enthusiasm for its prequel, Ouija: Origin of Evil. But to simply write off Ouija: Origin of Evil because of its lackluster predecessor would be an egregious error, as this movie is a massive improvement on the first. It firmly establishes director Mike Flanagan as one of the top horror directors working today with another excellent movie that has a style, scares, and a sharp sense of humor.
The film is set in Los Angeles in 1967. It opens with Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) performing a séance for some customers in her home, which does under the title of Madame Zander. Her eyes closed and gripping the hands of two people around the table, Alice is able to communicate with the spirits from beyond, their answers unfolding through the extinguishing of candles. It’s not much, but it’s a living. Except it’s all fake. With some theatrics aided by her daughters, the teenage Paulina (Annalise Basso) and the younger Doris (Lulu Wilson), Alice is able to give people in grief a bit of emotional comfort…at a price. The Zander Family is in the midst of a rough transition; money is tight in the wake of the death of the patriarch. But things take a turn for the worse when Alice decides to incorporate a Ouija board into her séances, which inadvertently unleashes a terror that could unravel the thin threads holding the Zander family together.
The script by Flanagan and Jeff Howard works in unison with the sharp visuals and editing style, playing with the audience’s expectations for maximum effectiveness. It employs a number of horror tropes, such as the kindhearted priest investigating the supernatural (Henry Thomas) to the young boy romantic interest (Parker Mack), but there’s a distinct personality to each of its clichés that it proves why they’re clichés in the first right. More than anything, Ouija: Origin of Evil is fun. There’s a sharp sense of humor that match the film’s strong visceral style and sharply constructed script.
Ouija: Origin of Evil is a movie with its own style and personality. It’s full of loving winks to a number of classic horror movies, and Flanagan has even injected cigarette burns in the corner and jumpy reel changes that compliment other decisions like using the ‘70s and ’80s Universal logo and the retro title card. Despite all that, it’s not gimmicky or drenched in nostalgia – it stands on its own and its texture flourishes aren’t anywhere as ridiculous as the Planet Terror sequence in Grindhouse. The visual style that Flanagan employs with cinematographer Michael Fimognari brings out Patricio M. Farrell’s production design, and of course seeing a split diopter shot in a modern horror movie brings me a bit of joy on its own.
When you think about all the things that Ouija: Origin of Evil had to overcome, its success becomes all the more amazing. Not only did it have to be a prequel that ties into a pretty bad movie, it had to be a prequel for a pretty bad movie based on board game. And yet Mike Flanagan has made his second great horror film of 2016 – the first being the thriller Hush (and he’d possibly have a third if Before I Wake had not been pushed back by its distributor). Yeah, it’s PG-13, but it doesn’t hold back on the horror. It’s funny, not jokey. It’s a throwback, but not dependent on nostalgia. Ouija: Origin of Evil might be the biggest improvement on the original in history of horror, if not all of cinema. I don’t mean to be hyperbolic. Simply, Ouija: Origin of Evil is the perfect movie for this Halloween – stylish, spook, and a whole lotta fun.
Ouija: Origin of Evil
- Overall Score
An astounding improvement of the original, Ouija: Origin of Evil is an absolute blast of a horror film, featuring a distinct visual style, a sharp sense of humor, and an effective number of frights.