Ouija: Origin of Evil Review

Posted: October 31, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

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Written by Daniel Simpson

I think one of the dumbest ideas for a horror movie in recent years is basing one off a board game. That was the attitude I had when Ouija was released in 2014 and its abysmal 7% on Rotten Tomatoes more or less told me I was right. I continued to look down on the concept even as I heard that solid up and comer Mike Flanagan would be helming the prequel Ouija: Origin of Evil. I was surprised then to see the film be released to pretty solid reviews and an 82% score on Rotten Tomatoes. That certainly caught my interest, but more than anything I think I just wanted to see a new release. It’s been a pretty terrible month for the movies, with the most worthwhile releases (namely The Birth of a Nation) not getting a release in my city. So, screw it, even without seeing the original, I thought I’d take a chance on Ouija: Origin of Evil. I had serious doubts that a haunted Ouija board could scare me, but I didn’t think a haunted mirror could work as a horror movie either and Mike Flanagan proved me wrong with Oculus.

Set in 1967, Ouija: Origin of Evil focuses on Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser), a woman who, with the help of her two daughters Lina (Annalise Basso) and Doris (Lulu Wilson), hosts staged séances for customers wanting to talk to their deceased loved ones. Alice does not view what they are doing as a scam, but as a service that actually helps people. The family themselves are grieving the loss of the family’s husband and father. With business faltering, Alice decides to buy an Ouija board to use in her practices. However after Doris uses it alone one night, the family learn she really is channelling some supernatural powers. Alice is at first thrilled to use this in her séances, but it starts to become clear that whatever force is at work has malicious intent.

The first few minutes of Origin of Evil are fairly promising. The fact that the characters are grieving for a loved and it is this obsession with the dead that brings such evil serves as a solid little metaphor for how obsession with the loss of loved ones can destroy people and prevent them from moving on with their lives. This takes on an added layer when one considers that the main characters are technically scam artists who in a sense brought their suffering on themselves. Admittedly, the film does a lot to soften these edges. There is a crucial scene where Alice does not accept payment for her one of her séances and the film completely takes her at her word when she describes the selflessness of her acts. I wish the film had played with this ambiguity a little more. The longer the film goes however, the less interest it is in exploring any of these ideas. Origin of Evil instead starts to resemble your typical modern haunted house movies. Lots of absurdly loud jump scares, emphasis on showing monsters rather than creating suspense and intrigue, evil little girl, ghost mouth that drops low and makes a “bwah” sound, spider-esque crawling on the walls, etc. And of course, all of this is set in a darkened suburban home. Occasionally, the film does throw out a cool visual, but for the most part this is the same haunting material we’ve seen in these sort of movies for years.

I’ve personally grown increasingly tired of these haunted house clichés and as such much of the film grated on me. It was particularly disappointing given that Flanagan showed off a good ability to build tension and create cool spooky visuals with Oculus. In Flanagan’s defense, he does shoot this thing with a certain degree of dignity and professionalism, more than one would expect anyway from a movie called Ouija: Origin of Evil. The film’s setting and look is also clearly inspired by The Conjuring. Flanagan plays into this, not only with the costumes and sets, but also other details like the 60s era Universal logo, an old-school title card, and digitally added cue marks. This would seem kinda neat, but it ultimately strikes me as a half-measure. I’m not saying I needed grain and scratches, rather, I’d have liked Origin of Evil’s to reflect 60s horror stylistically. The film’s visual style, designs, and pacing are all remarkably modern which pretty well shatters the illusion of a vintage film. If you’re gonna go with a retro vibe, you gotta go all or nothing.

To the film’s credit, Ouija: Origin of Evil is better than what I would expect from a movie about a haunted Ouija board, but it’s still a bad movie in my assessment. There are a few decent ideas, but this all gets swallowed in yet another generic haunting movie. There are a plethora of better haunted house movies to satisfy your spooky needs.

D+

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