By Thomas Simpson
Whereas it isn’t uncommon for a toy line to launch a film series, action figures such as Transformers come with a ready-made plot, board games not so much. Battleship was a mundane mess that shared a title with its influence and little else. The Ouija board is a different concept entirely. It has a unique history fueled by urban legend and belief. The 2014 Ouija film was panned by critics but raked in over $100 million at the box office against a $5 million budget. Rather than go for a rehashed sequel, Blumhouse Productions opted to release a prequel releasing Oujia: Origin of Evil in time for Halloween.
Taking place in 1967, widowed Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) makes a meager living as a fortune teller. Accompanied by her daughters, Paulina (Annalise Basso) and Doris (Lulu Wilson), Alice justifies her conning of clients by believing that she brings comfort to the grieving customers that seek answers. When she plans on implementing a Ouija board into her act, Doris discovers that she has a real gift when it comes to communicating with the dead. At first the Zanders believe they’re talking to the girls deceased father, however Paulina’s skepticism turns to fear as she worries that there are darker forces at work.
Stylistically Ouija: Origin of Evil is a joy to watch. The grade gives it a more authentic grainy look and is a refreshing departure from the overly polished and sterile horror films that tend to flood cinemas at this time of year. Screenwriters Jeff Howard and Mike Flanagan (who also directs) let us spend time with the family to invest in them, to care about their struggles. They aren’t mere sacrificial lambs offered up to the evil that awaits, they’re a family with real life worries and hurt.
The only criticism in that regard is the pace is really slow in the first act as events are set up. It pays off once the frights starts with Flanagan crafting a sustained terror to keep us hooked rather than go for cheap jump scares and fake out, something which its predecessor was heavily criticized for.
The cast deliver solid performances with Wilson’s talent shining through as she channels the spirits. The results are unnerving with her presence making uncomfortable viewing. The visual effects are subdued and used effectively. They accompany the frights and don’t drag the film down with cheap parlor tricks.
Ouija: Origin of Evil may be a prequel but it stands alone as its own film and does well to banish any preconceptions that may have arisen due to Ouija’s poor reviews. It’s a rare case of a horror sequel being a vast improvement over the first one. It’s often said that the Ouija board was popular with dating couples as it forced them to get close, Ouija: Origin of Evil is faithful to this tradition as there’s likely to be a lot of cuddling together during its 99 minutes.
Thomas Simpson is a writer and filmmaker based in Glasgow, U.K. Find him on Twitter: @Simmy41.