Though I am a fan of Mike Flanagan, I have never watched Ouija: Origin of Evil. Thankfully I am glad to say that it did not disappoint in the scares. It is not on the level of his work on The Haunting of Hill House (which left me screaming), but it is definitely not far off. Not only is it creepy and terrifying, but the aesthetics which he is now known for, add a lovely moody ambience to this movie.
Oujia: Origin of Evil is set in the 1960s in Los Angeles. It follows a mother, Alice, who is struggling to put food on the table, after the unfortunate death of her husband. Whilst looking for work as a receptionist, she offers spiritual readings that give her a little money but a great sense of fulfilment. At the suggestion of her oldest daughter, Lina, Alice incorporates an ouija board into the readings.
With the looming threat of foreclosure on the house, Alice is desperate for any lifeboat to get her out of her dire financial situation. When the youngest daughter, Doris, seems to have a gift to communicate with the dead, Alice feels like their luck is turning. She keeps Doris out of school to generate more business, but Lina starts to notice something is off with Doris and becomes scared of her.
Considering this is a prequel to Ouija, which has less than favourable reviews, it is a testament to all those involved that Origin of Evil works so well. But don’t be mistaken, as someone who has not seen the original, Origin of Evil works well enough as a standalone piece for the uninitiated. There aren’t many sequels that manage to surpass the original, but Origin of Evil does that in leaps and bounds.
All the actresses in this, including the one who plays Doris, are exemplary in portraying their roles. It would have been too easy to get bogged down in the reasons behind the readings for the bereaved clients. But Flanagan manages to keep the reins on it so that it just adds threads to the tapestry of this story.
His skill is creating characters with such subtlety that we can’t help but feel connected to the characters. Their hopes, desires and yearnings are something we can emphasize with. And in the case of Ouija: Origin of Evil, you would be hard-pressed to dismiss the desire to talk to a deceased loved one, just one more time. At the core, it is a grieving family trying to comes to terms with their loss in their own way that just happens to go terribly wrong in a horrific way.
Ouija: Origin of Evil as mentioned is set in the 1960s, and manages to get the aesthetic just right for that period. It is a period that is ripe for horror movies, in that it is not overdone like the Victorian era, but has the dark moody colours that can add to the atmosphere. I even enjoyed the touch of “cigarette burns” that give the film a nice retro feel. It plays on some of the nostalgic twinges you might feel for older films, but with the more polished effect of digital. Something that I would not be adverse to see in other movies that show an older time period.
Though Elizabeth Reaser is a powerhouse of an actress and portrays the vulnerable, reserved and concerned mother well. Her better judgement is pushed aside when the lure of not only able to save her family home but to talk to her beloved husband. Reaser shows us not only a strong character that keeps the family afloat but also portrays a vulnerability that is quiet but potent.
As much as I loved Reaser’s fantastic work in this, I was probably most impressed with the younger actresses. Annalise Basso is playing the rebelling teenager, who is the first one to discover this new ouija board that they start to use in an act of defiance against her parents. Lina unlike her mother and her hopeful young sister is not convinced by any of it. She is the voice of reason when it fails to speak to her mother. Basso does not need to display any frantic behaviour, as each startling look she throws towards her sister conveys the growing fear within her.
However, I have to say the star of this whole movie, is Lulu Wilson. Much of the fear factor you experience is from the CGI that shows the monster inside. But it wouldn’t have worked as well if Wilson hadn’t managed to carry that creepy air throughout. With just a pointed look or a disturbing story said in such a mundane way, you cannot help but be creeped out by Doris. None of it is showy in its approach but fits in with the ever-growing dread that perfectly crescendos towards the finale. You can definitely see a lot of homage to other movies that feature a creepy kid.
The special effects further enhance this dread and growing terror throughout. No one can look at a child with an overly large gaping mouth and not be completely disturbed by it. The frequency is kept rather minimal so that it does not lose its potency. It manages to throw your insides a curveball every time you witness it. And even though there is a demon that makes a brief appearance before overcoming Doris, it is Doris that channels the fear through us.
I was also impressed with the ending in Ouija: Origin of Evil. Even though seeing his other work, it would be a bit foolish to expect the perfected Hollywood ending to this. Nevertheless, it rather took me by surprise, as I did not anticipate it would end on such a dark note. The ending is perfectly fitting with the movie and does not negate any of the previous good story and character building. And if you are not immediately freaked out by crawling done by our young character, that is very reminiscent of The Ring and many horror games, I envy you.
Ouija: Origin of Evil may not have been able to sustain the Ouija franchise, but it is a fantastic dark drama that hits all the correct horror notes. It gives a nod to older classics such as the Exorcist, without being overly derivative. If you like period horror pieces that ooze style as well as substance in the same vein as The Conjuring films, Origin Evil is a must-watch for you.
Ouija: Origin of Evil is available to rent on Prime Video.