Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016, dir. Mike Flanagan)
It’s 1967, and Alice Zander works her spiritual medium con with help from her daughters, Lina and Doris. Since her husband died, Alice has struggled to make ends meet and manipulating grieving people eager to believe barely helping. Enter the Ouija board that young Doris quickly takes to, communicating with what she believes to be her father’s spirit. Well, as you can expect from a film like this, things get bad, and the entity using Doris becomes increasingly more malevolent as the plot progresses.
I’ve been watching director Mike Flanagan’s films since his 2011 debut Absentia and have always viewed his work as okay. It’s never risen to the top as my favorite horror, though he always has some interesting ideas in his scripts. Ouija is sadly the most generic of his films to date. It comes off as a Blumhouse styled horror film (Insidious, The Conjuring, etc.). And like those films, the horror is incredibly formulaic and predictable. If you have ever seen a horror film from the last decade, then you will be able to see the plot points coming miles away. As a result, Ouija commits the worst sin a horror film can: it’s not scary.
Stylistically it’s admirable that Flanagan attempted to make a pastiche of 1960s horror cinema. The title card, the warped soundtrack, the crackles in the audio track, the “burn marks” on the screen signaling reel changes in the projector room. However, the tone of the horror works in bold contrast to these stylistic flourishes. These are yawn-inducing jump scares that never make you jump. The evil entity becomes way too physically aggressive to be truly scary. I find the horror from Absentia to still linger with me because of its ambiguity and unpredictable nature. The same with the mirror in Oculus, the things it does are much more interesting and skin-crawling than just using invisible force to throw someone across a room.
The acting is fine with the main weight of the story being balanced between Elizabeth Reaser as Alice and Annalise Basso as Lina. They aren’t amazing, but I blame a lot of that on the weakness of the script. Henry Thomas pops up as a faithful Catholic priest who will be the inevitable Exorcist, another plot point you see coming as soon as he’s introduced. Doris is played by Lulu Wilson and does most of the villainous acting. She is painfully an “acting kid, ” and that is seen in the way she delivers her lines. After watching Dafne Keen in Logan show nuance and strength in her mainly silent performance, this is like looking at a Disney kid overemote. On top of that, the computer generated effects they use to make her monstrous end up being comically bad.
Ouija: Origin of Evil seems to be getting praised due to its juxtaposition with the first film in the franchise. I’ve successfully avoided the first picture due to the incredibly negative buzz it’s received. I assume it must be catastrophically bad if this sequel is being considered a magnificent film in comparison. Origin of Evil is not the worst film you could watch, but there are many other you would be better spending your time on.