Ouija: Origin of Evil is a prequel to the 2014 film, Ouija. The narrative follows a single mother, Alice (Elizabeth Reaser) who works as a fortune teller in her suburban home with her two daughters, Lina (Annalise Basso) and Doris (Lulu Wilson). They stage séances to pay for bills after Alice’s husband died in a car crash. Alice and Lina are aware that their acts are simply meant to be therapeutic for their customers, but Doris believes that what they do is real.
When faced with possibly losing their house, Alice buys a Ouija board to spice up her act. Doris then uses the board, in hopes of contacting her dead father, but ends up talking with something much more sinister. When it comes to light that Doris seems to be a genuine psychic, her behavior begins to change and spooky activity seems to be following her. Lina and family friend, Father Tom (Henry Thomas) suspect that there may be something wrong with Doris.
Ouija: Origin of Evil is one of the year’s biggest surprises. The first film was a critical flop (7% on Rotten Tomatoes) and was co-produced by the infamous Michael Bay. So, when it was announced that Ouija was getting a prequel, the response from moviegoers was a collective groan. However, despite the low expectations set by the previous film, the prequel ended up being a passable supernatural-horror movie.
Mike Flanagan has proven himself, once again, to be a director for horror fans to keep on their radar. His previous work, Oculus and Hush are modern masterpieces in their collective genres. He took extra steps for the film to feel like the sixties, besides the costumes and props. The film opens with the 60’s-70’s Universal Pictures logo. The film’s title card has the year of release in roman numerals, like a classic Hollywood feature and even includes cue marks (a black dot that appeared on 35mm film reels that would let the projectionist know when to change reels).
Aside from creating a visually interesting film, Flanagan and co-writer Jeff Howard were capable of taking a premise that previously failed and ended up with something that worked. They understand that in horror films the scares only work when you have characters that audiences can care about. The script has enough substance in the characters to allow the actors to have something to build from. Elizabeth Reaser and Annalise Basso (who worked with Flanagan on Oculus) handle their damaged mother/teenage daughter relationship very well. Their drifting apart didn’t feel forced. Newcomer Lulu Wilson also shines in her role.
When it comes to creepy children in horror movies, it could easily turn into unintentional hilarity. However, Flanagan worked with Lulu in a way that made scenes of her creepy actions feel unsettling, like Linda Blair’s performance in The Exorcist. There’s a level of reservation that many writers and directors fail to take into consideration. While the film does contain jump-scares, they are done in a tasteful way. Instead of something popping into frame followed by an ear-shattering sound effect, Flanagan allows the creepy image be creepy on its own; unlike the first film. Not every scare worked in this regard, but the effort is worth taking note of. This tactic may be frustrating for your average audience member who thinks Five Nights at Freddy’s is scary.
Overall, Ouija: Origin of Evil is a pleasant surprise for genre fans. Mike Flanagan made a movie based on a board game authentically creepy. Also, let the records show that producer Michael Bay accidentally let a good movie get made under his nose.