The Origins Of ‘Ouija’ Prove To Be Worthwhile (Movie Review)

ouija-origin-of-evil-3After making $100+ million on a $5 million budget with the first film, we now have a prequel – Ouija: Origins of Evil. While it provided me with one of my favorite review titles, the first Ouija left almost no impression, aside from being one of the worst films of 2014. “No one will remember Ouija,” is what I claimed in regards to the first film and money aside, I don’t think I’m all that far off. It actually benefited this prequel, as my lack of much recall for the first probably allowed me more of a chance to enjoy this Mike Flanagan-directed entry that digs into the mythology established by the first, but goes an entirely different direction in terms of style. As a result, here’s a horror film arriving just in time for Halloween that is a worthwhile (if a bit silly) watch.

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Set in 1967 (the spookiest of years in the 60s), this film tracks the family who become a big deal in Ouija (thanks Wikipedia for the reminder). Elizabeth Reaser stars as Alice Zander, a widowed mother of two, who holds fake séances at her home to make a living. When her older daughter Paulina (Oculus’ Annalise Basso) suggests adding a Ouija game board to the act, it leads to some wild developments. As it turns out, the youngest daughter Doris (Lulu Wilson) is a perfect vessel for summoning spirits. The downside is that the spirit world tends to be a place where evil lurks, especially in a home with secrets of its own.

Using the template of a prequel means Flanagan and co-writer Jeff Howard were required by producers Jason Blum (of Blumhouse) and Michael Bay (of Platinum Dunes) to tie the film to certain characters and have a big reliance on loud sound design and some nonsensical creepy moments. Aside from that, however, the film really goes in a new direction. As opposed to using the board game as a means to make a poorly done slasher film of sorts, ‘Origins of Evil’ has fun going a different route and making references to The Exorcist, The Changeling and Poltergeist, among other films. No, the film is not entirely original, but Flanagan seems to know what he signed up for and took on the film with a plan to mash up ideas and lend it a sense of style, in addition to providing some strong family-based drama.

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As evidenced right away by using the old Universal logo, the decision was made to give this film an “old school” feel. Now Flanagan still had to shoot digitally, but he’s throwing in a mix of visual noise (cigarette burns in the top corner, an occasionally grainy look), audio play (some wobbly soundtrack distortion) and specific camera shots (racked focus, old-fashioned framing tricks) to give the horror fans some cinematic treats in the midst of this wacky creep-fest. Does it ultimately amount to much? Not really, but knowing this film cost about the same as the first film but has the semblance of effort put into it does go a long way.

Is there much to say about the story being told? Not really. The film does manage to play off the strength of a family-focused drama, with a minimal number of characters to invest in, allowing me to care about how things play out for the most part. If anything, I’m actually happy the film basically reveals who is being effected by some demonic spirit fairly early on, allowing for more suspense to a point, as opposed to surprise (numerous jump scares notwithstanding). It doesn’t hurt to find a lot of fun in deliberate cuts to reveals of a character that allows the film to elicit laughs in the same way it creates shock value. And really, does this film need to be taken seriously?

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It’s a good question when it comes to examining the rules of the world of Ouija. Suffice it to say, things do not make a whole lot of sense. A lot of the scares are created for the sake of having them, but it was honestly not something that felt like a bother, because the film did itself one better by being genuinely entertaining to watch. Thanks to the visual aesthetic and the effort put in by the actors (this film is great at making you care about the people that are sadly forced to suffer), this film managed to take practically nothing and turn it into something worthwhile, making it (by default) the best board game-based movie out there (take that Battleship!).

It has been an unusually strong year for mainstream horror releases. Take you pick between The Conjuring 2, The Witch, The Purge: Election Year, Lights Out, Hush, The Invitation, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Blair Witch, The Shallows, among others to find ones you know were better than perhaps expected, but that is a rarity these days to get so many in one year. Ouija: Origins of Evil may not have been a film I initially wanted, but thanks to a talented director taking the reins, I was not disappointed. It’s the rare prequel that actually benefits from not even bothering with the first film. Really, it turns out this is a fun little horror flick that gets what it is trying to do and runs with it.


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