Anyone who endured the original Ouija (2014) would be right to approach this sequel with abject trepidation. The first film of this potential horror franchise from Blumhouse Productions (Paranormal Activity, Insidious) was trite, ineffective trash which riffed on tired horror genre tropes and failed to deliver any genuine scares. Despite being woefully low on quality, it was still a resounding commercial hit so a sequel was somewhat inevitable. Fortunately the producers have learned from their mistakes. Ouija: Origin of Evil is basically the polar opposite of its predecessor; well written, brilliantly directed and sporting a fine cast. Most importantly, it’s scary as hell.
Set in the mid 1960s, the cleverly conceived story operates as a prequel to the events of the original film. It focuses on spiritualist Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) and her daughters Lina (Annalise Basso) and Doris (Lulu Wilson). The family run fake seances in their home, tricking their clients into believing that they are reconnecting with their deceased relatives. While morally dubious, their enterprise is rooted in good intentions as Alice believes that she is providing comfort and closure to her customers. The Zander family are also coming to terms with a loss of their own, the patriarch of the family unit having died in a recent car wreck. When a Ouija board is purchased as a prop for their business, little Doris uses it one evening hoping to contact her dad but unwittingly opens a portal to the dark side. Soon she is under the control of a powerful spirit and the family are dragged into a terrifying ordeal with the devil.
There are a few reasons why this film succeeds where the first one failed. Primarily, the director. While the first film marked the directing debut of screenwriter Stiles White, his lack of experience was boldly apparent. Tellingly, he hasn’t directed since. On Origin of Evil, the more seasoned Mike Flanagan (Absentia, Oculus) is in charge and builds on the impressive, atmospheric suspense of his previous chillers. Aesthetically, the film is very strong with set design and acute attention to period detail convincing throughout. The script from Flanagan and writing partner Jeff Howard is tightly constructed with slow building tension and well executed scares ensuring that the overall creepiness of the scenario gets under your skin. Unlike the tepid, uninvolving original and it’s crew of two dimensional non-entities, this film works because you become invested in the fleshed out characters and drama of their central story. Credit goes to the fine cast for this with Elizabeth Reaser (Twilight) and Annalise Basso (Oculus) excellent as bickering mother and daughter at odds with their supernatural predicament. Henry Thomas (Elliot from E.T) is effective as embattled priest Fr. Tom but it is Lulu Wilson (Deliver Us From Evil) as Doris who steals the show. While the strong special effects enhance the physical aspects of her demonic possession, Wilson’s natural performance is mature and haunting. This is highlighted in one sequence where she graphically describes the sensation of being strangled to Lina’s perplexed boyfriend Mikey (Parker Mack). It is a darkly brilliant moment and delivered with wicked perfection.
You know a horror film has succeeded when it’s images stick with you after the lights go out and linger on into the next day. Ouija: Origin of Evil achieves that feat with considerable style and marks another impressive effort from the talented Flanagan (Stephen King adaptation Gerald’s Game is up next). For audiences looking for entertaining big screen scares this Halloween, Origin of Evil delivers the goods.