Review: Ouija’s reputation might drown in the pit-bottom of the 2014 worst, but even so, grossing out 103 million USD from a 3-million production budget is an achievement. Consequently, skeptical thoughts are floating around when the news that this Hasbro-based horror gets a sequel (technically prequel) hits the ground. The only thing that keeps hope high for this installment is the helmer, Mike Flanagan.
Breaking the ground with Absentia and refusing to get found-footage treatment to his acclaimed Oculus, Flanagan is already on track in 2016 with other two films at gunshots: a poignant home-invasion Hush and an underwhelmed fantasy horror Before I Wake. As the third entry to his filmography this year, Ouija: Origin of Evil bears a great burden to turn down skeptical thought about the predecessor and to prove that, if done correctly, this boardgame can be frightening as hell.
Kudos to Flanagan, he strips off most element from the first Ouija but some plot points and crafts this horror with his own vision. While the predecessor sets in modern time, Origin of Evil sets in the 1960s as it follows the life of a scam psychic, Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser), who exploits people’s desperate attempts to contact the goners into his own benefit. She is financially forced to do that to support her two daughters—the link between this prequel and the original Ouija—Lina (Annalise Basso) and Doris (Lulu Wison) after her husband’s death.
Alice tricks her guests into believing that supernatural occurences going around her when she conducts her action are real. To convince people more, Alice buys a new Ouija board and prepares some new tricks. Little does she know that this Ouija board is a gate to a more malicious paranormal activity, which eventually haunts her family and puts her younger daughter, Doris, in an enormous danger.
While having some mutual characters and source of conflict (and house), Oujia: Origin of Evil feels like an independent spin-off. It is presented as a different kind of film; it’s a horror which does not try too hard to scare audiences, but instead, it tries to narrate a story. While the story is basically paper thin, Flanagan and his frequent collaborator, Jeff Howard add depth to the ‘origin’ story and focuses more on characters’ relationship than on the board itself.
Origin of Evil leads audiences into symphatize with the characters, who were falsely accused by unreliable character in the first Ouija. The board isn’t really the titular origin of evil; it’s only a media, a bridge between the insidious entity and the desperate human. The true origin of the evil is grief, which leads into longing and curiosity. Alice helps her guests to falsely communicate with spirits in order to find comfort and consolation, which basically a thing she’s been doing to herself and her family, which leads to the tragedy.
Flanagan uses that sympathy and makes it into a series of terror. He’s making audiences believe that malicious spirits are around the characters; to accomplish it, Flanagan crafts atmospheric horror which lies more on camera movement, depth of the set decoration, and obscure behavior done by the characters. There’s not many jump scares and shockingly disturbing sound effects, but the director’s been compensating it with some implications, which make it more menacing.
This Ouija prequel isn’t without flaws. The first Ouija’s twist and messy threads leave scars the prequel cannot mend perfectly. The third act, following slow-burned beginning, feels too jumpy and too excessively exaggerating its connection to the first film. However, terrific performances by the actresses, especially the youngest, Lulu Wison, keeps this beautiful period horror a solid run till the end.
Frankly, Ouija: Origin of Evil feels small compared to other horror franchises, but it isn’t inferior at all. Mike Flanagan once again proves himself to be a futurist in horror genre by re-crafting what’s not working with the predecessor into making an effective, heartfelt and more superior sequel-prequel. While this one lacks of defining scares, it leaves more scars.
Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)