Director Mike Flanagan has unleashed some fair game into the horror market in recent years – by which I mean Hush and Oculus did not completely isolate fans of the genre. At a time when the quality of horror films is arguably on the rise again Flanagan could certainly be considered a part of that revival. With the upcoming big screen adaptation of Stephen King's Gerald's Game in Flanagan's hands you might be forgiven for thinking that Ouija: Origin Of Evil just might pass the scare factor.
Set in 1960s Los Angeles, Ouija: Origin Of Evil is a prequel rather than a sequel. There’s even a kitschy title card worthy of Roger Corman (they also helpfully get one of the main characters to utter the word "groovy" within the first 10 minutes). Our story begins with Madame Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) who runs a scam séance outfit from the comfort of her home – her very, very Myers circa 1978 home. With the help of her daughters, teen Paulina (Annalise Basso) and nine-year-old Doris (Lulu Wilson), she's been bilking grieving family members into thinking she can communicate with their dearly departed. But her con artist days are brought to a fairly abrupt end once she chooses to add a ouija board to her performance.
It seems that doe-eyed Doris actually has quite the gift for communicating with the dead. Not only is she able to communicate with her late father, she’s also able to move the planchette without touching it, speak in the voices of the dead and even see spirits. Rather than run for the nearest exorcist, Alice actually takes her daughter out of school to utilise her "gift" full-time to bring in the punters. Great parenting on show here. Unfortunately, this invites all the beings who have ever died in their house (apparently there's quite a lot) to wreak havoc on their lives by using Doris as a vessel.
Henry Thomas, who will always be E.T.'s Elliot to most middle-aged audience members, plays Father Tom. You know, the token priest in these sorts of films who claims not to believe in the occult until it smacks him in the face. Unfortunately they really missed a trick here by not having the ouija board spell out E.T. while he interacts with the "other side".
It’s actually when Paulina goes to Father Tom for help that the film shifts into fifth gear and goes for it with gusto. From this midway point every single horror convention is on display. Demonic little girls scurry across walls and ceilings, Nazi doctors conceal skeletons in the basement and possession runs rampant in the Zander residence. So completely unrelenting is the final third that just when you think it can't get any more absurd it pulls out yet another trope from the horror box of tricks. All this is of course accompanied by very loud bangs and quick cuts to frenzied devilish features contorting young Doris' face into a death mask.
Let's be clear – a lot of horror films these days are so bad they're offensive. So bad that you wonder just how little Hollywood producers think of their audiences to put the nonsense out there that they have. Ouija, this film’s predecessor, was one of these films. Stacked up against it, this follow-up shines like a diamond in the rough. It’s actually a fairly enjoyable way to pass 90-odd minutes. Though there's nothing new here and nothing that will redefine the genre, there is enough to keep your interest. It’s easy enough to pick out the negatives, but the positives really stand out – one of the creepier moments being Doris speaking calmly and knowledgeably about the art of strangulation.
There's certainly proof that Flanagan knows what makes horror work because he's watched a lot of it. It seems Flanagan's choice to throw everything but the kitchen sink into the final third is what made Ouija: Origin Of Evil feel so exhilarating when the end finally came. But it's also what made this a very middle-of-the-road, unoriginal horror. I wanted to like it more than I did, but overall it feels like it is too muddled and unsure of just what effect it is going for. That being said, it arrives just in time for Halloween. It will surely do well at the box office with little competition around. It's the perfect movie to watch once, in the spirit of the season, and then never think of again.
EXTRAS: There's an Audio Commentary with director/co-writer/editor Mike Flanagan; seven Deleted Scenes (16:58); the featurette The Making of Ouija: Origin of Evil (9:13); the featurette Home Is Where the Horror Is (4:45); and the featurette The Girl Behind Doris (4:01).