Ouija: Origin of Evil
(Genre: Supernatural/Horror, Director: Mike Flanagan, Distributor: Universal Pictures, Budget: $9 million, Runtime: 99 minutes)
Set in Los Angeles in 1967, the story follows Alice, a faux medium who is a recent widower and mother of two girls. Though Alice isn’t an authentic medium, she performs the role with good intentions as she is trying to help her customers deal with loss. Lina (15) and Doris (9) both assist their mother with the seances.
While at a party one evening, Lina plays with an Ouija Board and suggests to her mother that it might be a good idea to include one in the act. Alice buys one. The board comes with three simple rules: don’t play with it alone, don’t play with it in a graveyard, and always say goodbye. Doris plays with the Ouija by herself, inadvertently breaking two of the rules. Mysterious happenings begin to occur. The girls attend a Catholic school, so Lina turns to one of the priests there for help as things begin to spiral out of control for her sister.
“A scam is a lie. We don’t lie.”
Ouija: Origin of Evil is a prequel to the 2014 picture, Ouija, and surpasses it in just about every way. There is a nice, even tenseness that permeates the entirety of the film. The third act is chock full of alternating jump and traditional scares that build to a satisfying conclusion.
Lulu Wilson turns in a chilling performance as the youngest daughter Doris. She conveys a wide-eyed coldness that sells the role and drives the movie.
Annalise Basso (“Lina”) is particularly poised in her performance. Though only 17, she has nearly 10 years of acting experience behind her. I can’t imagine her not having a bright future in the business.
The movie appears to owe a bit of debt to The Conjuring series. The retro setting and vintage atmosphere certainly feel inspired by the successful franchise. This even extends to the casting, as Parker Mack (“Mikey”–Lina’s love interest) is a dead ringer for The Conjuring star, Patrick Wilson.
One aspect in which I feel director Mike Flanagan came up short is the actual portrayal of the ouija board. The board wasn’t depicted as special. It had no identity. It was literally a game board purchased at a local shop with no pedigree to distinguish it as particularly unworldly. It’s a small distinction but would have added to the depth of the scares later in the movie.
Without going into specifics, the film works because it explores the monsters that live in people’s homes. Those monsters can be manifested as secrets or sorrows or unrest or strife. In some cases, the horror is not only unmentionable but tangible. The notion of being betrayed by one’s surroundings, one’s safe zone, is unnerving and terrifying in a palpable way.
Overall, Ouija: Origin of Evil is worth a watch. Not only does it flesh out the overarching universe established in the first film, but it is a better-constructed movie. The kids are charismatic and each turn in strong performances. Most importantly, the narrative is compelling and delivers scares.