In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it.
In order to improve upon the original film, Ouija: Origin of Evil needed only to be mildly coherent. Ouija, Hasbro’s first foray into horror, set the lowest of bars, telling a hackneyed, boring tale about a group of nameless, interchangeable teens who unlock a doorway between the world of the living and the world of the dead using everyone’s favorite parlor game. It wasn’t scary, engaging, or even the least bit structurally functional. Ouija is legitimately one of the blandest horror movies ever made. Enter Mike Flanagan, the director of Oculus and Hush, two of the strongest genre entries of recent memory. Enter also, a script. Reshoots and producer’s scissors exit stage right. While acting as a prequel to the first film, the connective tissue exists solely in the form of a post-credits “stinger” that is essentially useless. Otherwise, Ouija: Origin of Evil can and should be regarded as a standalone film.
The story is that of a widow and her two young daughters who pay the bills by offering seances to people in mourning. On its surface, their business is a scam. They employ cheap special effects and spooky charisma to fool their marks into believing they’ve seen something supernatural. But they perform these feats out of a sense of altruism. If someone can sit through a seance and find peace, who’s to say that they didn’t get precisely what they paid for? Still, it’s a struggle to keep a one-parent household afloat, and now this trio of faux-psychics are facing foreclosure . . . until a Ouija board clues them in to a stash of cash hidden in the walls.
It appears that financial woes have been abated, but as the youngest daughter begins to show signs of legitimate supernatural ability, a horror movie happens.
Much like its largest influence, The Conjuring, whose shadow in which Origin of Evilrightfully exists, there’s a strong homage to the haunted house films of the 60s and 70s – even the title card is designed to look old school. It’s a smart move, as the dated feel gives the audience a reason to suspend disbelief; to go along for the ride. It’ll be hard for even the most hardened horror skeptic to affix pesky logic as a coping mechanism for fear (seriously, why are you so married to logical behavior in horror? Have you met people? We are painfully illogical in high stress situations).
There are a few good jump scares, all of which are earned, but the bulk of the scares come from masterfully drawn out tension and truly haunting imagery. Since seeing the film, I’ve closed my eyes only to be treated with a memory of what I’ll call “the mirror scene.” It’s a good thing to have hidden behind your eyelids during this season. Not so much at bedtime.
Flanagan gives the film a thoughtful pace, with each spook sequence snowballing into something larger and more explicit. These moments are divided nicely among the film’s runtime which allows for a smooth reset after every jolt, as well as the insertion of morbid humor. It also makes room for character development. No one is a red shirt, and everyone gets some shade of development. Much like The Conjuring, the body count is rather low (I believe The Conjuring left everyone alive), but that’s not the aim of the film. This isn’t a slasher, nor is it meant to be cynical or hyper-kinetic. It’s meant to be creepy, and it is.
No need to visit the first movie. Really, don’t. But this Halloween, Ouija: Origin of Evil is your one stop shop for cinematic terrors.
And don’t talk to the screen, you jerk.
Ouija: Origin of Evil opens in Philly theaters today.