Ouijia sucked. The “why am I watching this because I already know it’s going to suck” kind of suck. So when the sequel was announced two years later, I felt nothing, not a single reaction aside from the “black girl eye roll” I’ve perfected since birth.
Set in 1967, Ouija: Origins of Evil, is that dreaded prequel where we have to not only pretend we care about the existence of a creepy board game but invest in different characters. Directed by Mike Flanagan, the movie is written by Flanagan and Jeff Howard; but even with this new crew, at the end of the day, it’s still a Ouija movie and my hopes were in the toilet with Mr. Hanky.
Then I watched the movie.
Ouija: Origin of Evil will take you by surprise even if it falls into the tired ol’ “why are the white children always playing with ghosts?” But the saving grace is this movie is so much more. Yes, it’s intent is to scare but it’s also a compelling tragic drama about family and loss — topics that stands on their own no matter the genre.
Unlike its predecessor, Origin of Evil prioritizes the living over the dead. Thanks to a well-crafted script that’s suspenseful but doesn’t rush things. Carefully paced over 99 minutes, this is a movie about patience with a rich reward.
The family is in mourning after the death of the husband. Trying to survive both financially and emotionally, Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) and her daughters Paulina (Annalise Basso) and Doris (Lulu Wilson) perform seances. While Alice’s mother was born with the spiritual gift, these gifts skipped Alice resulting in the family performing fake readings to make ends meat. Yes, this is cruel, but their customers are seeking closure so no harm is really done. Through the beauty of scripted convenience, the mother purchases a Ouija board to use as a prop for the readings. But like all nosy children, Doris decides to use the board to contact her father’s spirit and all hell literally breaks loose.
The movie’s driving factor is how relatable it is, by focusing on the ups and downs of family; from the threat of having to move to experiencing a first kiss, you become attached to the characters, so when weird things start happening there’s an emotional not a cheap reaction.
With a rather small cast, the movie pulls the best out of its actors. Henry Thomas, a loving teacher at the Catholic school the girls attend, tries to cope with his own loss while giving the family guidance and compassion. He is the father figure the family desperately needs, even if he’s a troubled soul.
If you’re looking for guts and gore, this is not a movie for you. Yes, there are jump scares and frightening secrets revealed, but they’re all carefully placed to get the most reaction out of people. But the shining moments lie within the script which is filled with funny and touching dialogue. From a mother confronting her daughter’s would-be boyfriend, to the youngest daughter’s interactions with her school bullies, it all comes together with charm and rich personality.
Unlike other horror movies where the children act like they’re dead inside, the Ouija children are full of life and chemistry; relying on well executed lines rather blank stares. Their acting is elevated by their ability to deliver lines to each other with such quip you laugh through the horrific moments. While Reaser takes on a comforting role hiding her inner struggles and longing for her husband, she is magnetic on screen.
Origin of Evil is a delightful surprise to the genre. Entertaining and full of heart, it is a rewarding experience for everyone. While there were a few standout horror movies this year, this movie gives me hope for the franchise, until someone else comes along to screw it up.