October 2016 | Mike Flanagan | PG-13 | 99 min | (USA)
Review: “Ouija: Origin of Evil delivers a trifecta…story, substance, and scares.”
Synopsis: A widowed mother of two young girls tries to keep her family afloat by conducting elaborate (and staged) séances. Little does the family know that their humble abode is home to some horrific secrets which are set free when the family introduces the Ouija board to their act. Once the board is in the home, the youngest daughter Doris (Lulu Wilson) becomes a conduit for all the evil that is about to be unleashed. In seeking answers from their past, the family brings their future to a screeching halt. As best said by Cherríe Moraga, “Don’t let your past, steal your present”; or, as I like to say, “Don’t use a Ouija board with your creepy little kid in your freakishly hellish house.”
The Nuts and Bolts: Look, I have been disappointed time and again by movies involving Ouija boards. As a child I played the Ouija board with friends, at slumber parties, in cemeteries, and dare I say it…alone. It is a rite of passage in a society that otherwise lacks thresholds to the supernatural realm. To this very day, I am still pretty freaked out about having a Ouija board in my home. So you can imagine, when I see a horror movie involving a Ouija board, I am looking to revisit some of those same teenage endorphin rushes. Until now, I’ve been terribly let down, but Ouija: Origin of Evil really delivers.
Obviously, I really enjoyed this film, then, but in the interest of a full review I want to offer you both sides of the story. In order to do so, I will start with what does not work and end with what really does work. I hope, though, that you look beyond my minor quibbles and go see Ouija: Origin of Evil for yourself. If you like supernatural thrillers, possessions, haunted houses, or creepy kids . . . this film will not disappoint.
What Doesn’t Work: The ending was a little wonky, but not so much that it outweighs the work of the previous 89 minutes. The film relied a bit too heavily on poorly executed digital effects that did not add to the sense of dread (most often those weirdly stretched out mouths appeared awkward rather than scary). At times, the focus on the family dynamics overshadowed a larger, creepier plot line. I love family horror/ suburban horror; I wish, though, that we could move past mom-blaming and missing fathers as the origins of evil. I would like to think there is a greater take-away from this than “my parents made me do it.”
What Works: I can’t say it enough: this was a good story from beginning to end. Minute details such as the soundtrack or the movies playing on the background television screen all illuminated that this film was a labor of love. I found myself fascinated at times by the layers small details throughout this film. I am not easy to scare or to startle, yet this film definitely had me on edge on more than one occasion. Director and co-writer Mike Flanagan does not rely on obvious jump scares and loud noises but rather builds a sense of dread that seethes up from your gut. I must give kudos to the young actresses Annalise Basso (Paulina) and especially Lulu Wilson (Doris) for their stellar performances. This is not to take away from anyone else but rather to emphasize those who really added to the horror. If I wasn’t already plenty creeped out by normal children, little Doris Zander may have pushed me over the edge when she was curled up whispering a nonsensical cacophony of contagion into her sister’s ear.
Sidebar: Shout out to Henry Thomas who plays Father Tom. Those of you my age might remember him from E.T. (1982) and Cloak & Dagger (1984). Thomas is reportedly teaming up again with Mike Flanagan for an adaptation of one of my favorite Stephen King books, Gerald’s Game, which is going to premiere on Netflix. I can hardly wait!