Synopsis – In 1965 Los Angeles, a widowed mother and her two daughters add a new stunt to bolster their seance scam business and unwittingly invite authentic evil into their home. When the youngest daughter is overtaken by a merciless spirit, the family confronts unthinkable fears to save her and send her possessor back to the other side.
My Take – Like most filmgoer, I was not impressed with the first Ouija film. It was flat and lacking in almost every aspect. The film was a lazy, nonsensical film about a bunch of teenagers who get killed because one of them plays an Ouija board alone and awakens something dark and sinister in the house. The lead of the film is a friend who figures out that there was a family of three women – a mother and two daughters who did séances in the same house and one of them is the bad spirit who is killing her friends. She visits one of the sisters in an asylum only to be tricked by her to actually awaken the monster sister. The film itself was shabby, with no logic to the sequence of events and filled with plot holes. It was easily one of the worst films of 2014. However, despite the mere 6% on Rotten Tomatoes, the film was a huge financial success by earning around $103,590,271 million worldwide on a minimum budget of just $5 million. Obviously, for a Hollywood studio that means a sequel! Plus, in a surprise film, the production company in charge, Blumhouse Productions, issued an apology for the original film, promising that the new film would be up to their standards. Despite the average trailers, the only reason my interest peaked for this 60s based prequel was knowing that the man behind the camera was rising horror/thriller director Mike Flanagan. Known for some excellent grounded work in films Absentia, Oculus and the recently released Hush and the under rated Before I Wake, director Flanagan makes it clear right from the opening sequence that this prequel is going to be no ordinary clichéd horror film. Director and co-writer Mike Flanagan together with writer Jeff Howard conceived a greater story in all respects to the first film. As it is a prequel, it is not prescriptive that you know the forgettable initial story, since the task of this film is to lay the groundwork for the earlier Stiles White directed film.
The story follows 17-year-old Lina Zander (Annalise Basso), the character played by Lin Shaye in the first film, in 1967 Los Angeles. The Zander family is going through an economic, sentimental and labor standstill following the father’s death, Roger (Michael Weaver), who died in a car accident. Trying to evade economic suffocation, the family does fake séances in order to help people to contact deceased beloved ones. With a complex and disturbing indication mechanism, they simulate a true communication, achieving give an unfounded peace message to melancholic clients. Despite realistic effect, Lina’s mother Alice (Elizabeth Reaser), now family’s pillar, upon Lina’s suggestion decides to add a new element to the spiritism circus, this is where the Ouija board comes into play. Unknown to them, Lina’s 9-year-old sister Doris (Lulu Wilson), using the board, connects to what she thinks is the spirit of her dad, nonetheless, once it has shown clement and reliable, things become sinister because of the fatal oversight of the three main rules: 1. Never play alone, 2. Do not play in a graveyard and 3. Always say goodbye, remember: Ouija knows all the answers. What happens next, however, is one of the scariest horror films made in a while– but when the director and writer is Mike Flanagan, you expect nothing less. The film starts out a little slower than most horror style films as it really takes its time to set up most of its characters. A lot of times this was done through conversations characters had with one another by dropping a lot of not so subtle hints at their past. This heavy use of expositional dialogue is extremely blatant, however unlike most horror style films it isn’t crammed into a mere five minutes. The film really takes its time to at least try and get the audience invested into the characters before moving on to the spooky part of the story. You just need to believe that Flanagan as a director and writer knows what he’s doing. Director Mike Flanagan has masterfully created an origin story to a series that was so investing and so eerily creepy that it, at times, made my skin crawl. As with many horror films, it does take a while to really get going. In fact, despite some good scares and creepy atmosphere in the middle, the best scares are in the last half. A story must be told so I get why they have to tell it calmly in the beginning. Story alone, this film keeps the audience so curious throughout the film until the very end when it hits you full force with consistent terror. This is not simply a jump scare film, although it has its moments, I have just grown immune to them. I found the slow burn creepy actions and mannerisms far more terrorizing than an attempt at catching me by surprise. In a sense, the film toys with the audience as they expect to be scared but right when you think it may happen, it pulls off the trigger.
Working on a bigger board than he has had before thanks to Universal’s backing, director Mike Flanagan & cinematographer Michael Fimognari avoid needless excess, to instead expand on the themes which they had started in Oculus. Swaying long hair in tracking shots which cut a foreboding mist, Flanagan and Fimognari play the game with ultra-stylized whip- pans round the Zander house, that are sharply balanced by Flanagan jumping from out of frame shocks, with creepy, lingering shots showering the closed-off Zander’s house (a major theme in Flanagan‘s work) with burning anxiety. Opening with the 60’s Universal logo, Flanagan cuts as many links to the first film as possible by replacing the slick modern horror look for the grain of the 60’s,basking the Zander’s in rich ruby reds, and a depth of field gliding in the family gatherings, with Flanagan keeping a casual edge to the added specs of dirt and dust, which give the title a gritty shine. Another aspect often neglected in horror films is the human aspect. The small rag- tag family is reeling from the lost of a husband and father. The grief feels genuine, as does the hope and tentative joy they feel when the Ouija board and Doris seem to be contacting her deceased father. The film is both horrifying and tragic. The ending evokes equal parts screams and empathy for this ailing family. But as this film is a prequel, you’ll see how the story and the characters connect to the previous installment, the result is a certain predictability based on how much you remember from the earlier film. There are some very well done psychological horror moments that definitely create an eerie feeling and the sense of tension is often times extremely high. Mixed in are also some minor attempts at gore horror which felt extremely misplaced. Among the performances, it’s the young actress, Lulu Wilson, who steals the show. This girl is only 11 and manages to carry the whole film from start to finish. Her malevolent intensity and purposeful movements made even the toughest members of the audience uncomfortable. She is really creepy and steals every scene. One in particular involving a basement, hole in the wall, and a menacing Doris standing behind a poor soul comes to mind. Elizabeth Reaser brings certain charm and depth to her role. Growing actress Annalise Basso is also excellent. Henry Thomas & Parker Mack play their parts well. On the whole, ‘Ouija: Origin of Evil’ is a worthy prequel masterfully blend with solid characters, slow-burn horror and some good scares. Director Mike Flanagan does not exactly renovate horror genre with this film, but gives a new hopeful direction to this HASBO horror franchise which can be further explored.
Directed – Mike Flanagan
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 99 minutes