Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)
Directed by: Mike Flanagan
Premise: A prequel to the 2014 film. Set in the late 1960s, a widow and her daughters run a séance scam. But when they incorporate a Ouija board into the act, the youngest daughter (Lulu Wilson) is able to channel spirts that may or may not be friendly.
What Works: The original Ouija movie was a mediocre haunted house picture that was more of a feature length product placement for Hasbro than a horror film. Things are different in the prequel. This film has been made by a different set of filmmakers and right away it is clear that Origin of Evil is in better hands. It is considerably better made than the 2014 film. Origin of Evil is well shot with scenes lit in a way that is spooky instead of murky and the filmmakers choose some interesting angles and camera moves. The film has a fair amount of humor in its opening. In the first scene it is revealed that the family are hucksters running a séance scam and deceiving their clients. But the moviemakers create sympathetic characters; since the death of the father, the family is in financial straits and they carry on the occult business to pay the mortgage. They justify what they are doing as a public service. As the mother points out, they are able to tell their customers what they want to hear and therefore offer them peace of mind. Throughout the opening of the picture, the family members have a lot of reality to them. The widowed mother struggles with relatable challenges of paying the bills and raising teenage daughters. The two girls have a credible sisterly rapport and when things start to go bad the teenage daughter (Annalise Basso) is sharp and identifies what is really happening. The grief over the dead father also adds an emotional complication to the parent-child relationship that also impacts the supernatural aspect of the movie. The time and effort that is put into the family drama establishes an emotional foundation for the story that pays off throughout the rest of the movie. When the youngest daughter begins using a Ouija board she is able to channel actual spirits and at first this appears miraculous, making the family’s séance service a legit business that is able to do some good. But things turn sour as the youngest daughter is overtaken by an evil spirit. The way in which the family is deceived into mistaking evil for good is quite well done. The spirits essentially hustle the family in the same way they hustled their clients. Things get increasingly sinister and actress Lulu Wilson is very creepy in the role as the possessed daughter. Origin of Evil is craftily made with the filmmakers cultivating an effective atmosphere of dread. The movie has jump scares that are set up and executed in a way that is fun and frightening.
What Doesn’t: Ouija: Origin of Evil goes awry in the ending. As a prequel this movie has an inherent handicap that it can never overcome – it is tethered to a lousy predecessor and must dovetail into that film. For most of its running time Origin of Evil tells an intelligent story with some good scares and interesting characters but in order to link this Ouija film to the other one the filmmakers are forced to make some stupid choices. The ending of this picture does not follow logically or dramatically from the rest of the story. The narrative isn’t leading to this point and it is an unsatisfying conclusion. As a haunted house picture, Ouija: Origin of Evil comes at a time when the spooky movie marketplace is quite full and there’s not much in the picture that is especially innovative or original. Between the Insidious and The Conjuring movies there have been plenty of horror films about possessed children and Origin of Evil does not present much that is new. In fact it lifts several gags from other movies like Poltergeist and The Exorcist that knowing audiences will probably recognize.
Bottom Line: Ouija: Origin of Evil is superior to its predecessor in every way. While it is not a very original film and is saddled with a clumsy ending, Origin of Evil is well made and sports humor and intelligence that separate it from other haunted house movies.
Episode: #618 (October 30, 2016)