Ouija: Origin of Evil
by Hope Madden
It’s a rare thing for a sequel to better its predecessor. It helps when the bar is not particularly high in the first place.
Such is the case for Ouija: Origin of Evil. A prequel to the 2014 by-the-numbers spook flick Ouija, the new iteration takes us back to a stylish 1965 where a struggling widow (Elizabeth Reaser) tries to eek out a living as a fortune teller.
Though her goal is noble – she just wants to bring peace to the grieving – her gig is a scam. Worse still, she enlists the help of her 9 and 16-year-old daughters. But when she brings a Ouija board home to liven up the act, her youngest turns out to be the real medium.
This is not a great film. It is, however, not half bad.
Director Mike Flanagan (Absentia, Hush), who co-wrote with Jeff Howard, has proven that he can mine even familiar territory for chills. His casting certainly doesn’t hurt.
Rather than relying on fresh faced teens to carry a supernatural slasher, he turns to seasoned actors – Reaser and Henry Thomas (that’s right – Elliot!) – to ground the fantastical elements with understated but believable performances.
The important roles, though, are the kids. Annalise Basso – so strong in Flanagan’s middling Oculus – again nails a performance as a normal kid living through extraordinary circumstances.
Lulu Wilson plays the wee spiritualist Doris, and though she occasionally slips into something too cloying, for the most part she handles her part with a nice balance of innocence and eeriness.
Flanagan wisely picks up enough from the previous film for this origins story to make it a proper standalone effort. He does get a bit heavy handed with the tiresome FX (is anyone still undone by a crab walking pre-adolescent at this point?), but for 2/3 of the film his approach is more measured. He lets the appealing performances and family dynamic do most of the heavy lifting.
Elements that weaker filmmakers would have hit hard Flanagan allows to linger, to become intriguing rather than damning.
As has been the case throughout his career, he can’t quite close the deal. Though never terrifying and rarely fresh, Origin of Evil still brings enough era-specific nods and spook house moments to be a fun seasonal escape – but never more than that.