OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL poster | ©2016 Universal Pictures

OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL poster | ©2016 Universal Pictures

Rating: PG-13
Stars: Annalise Basso, Elizabeth Reaser, Lulu Wilson, Henry Thomas, Doug Jones
Writers: Mike Flanagan & Jeff Howard, based on characters created by Juliet Snowden & Stiles White
Director: Mike Flanagan
Distributor: Universal
Release Date: October 20, 2016

OUIJA: THE ORIGIN OF EVIL is a sequel, or rather a prequel, far superior to its 2014 predecessor. For starters, it makes much more sense and has many more organic scares. Those who pay attention to character names will realize what story we’re watching. Otherwise, apart from the Ouija board of the title, we have to wait for a brief post-credits sequence to fill in the connection.

The 1967 time frame gives us a world without PCs and mobile phones, when women’s hair was sprayed within an inch of its life. We meet in short order Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser), who is recently widowed but trying to keep it together for the sake of her daughters, high school sophomore Paulina (Annalise Basso) and nine-year-old Doris (Lulu Wilson). Alice is a fake spiritual medium who stages séances in her lovely old Los Angeles home. These events are family affairs, with the girls hidden and creating effects that the customers believe are proof of spirit activity.

Paulina has reservations about Mom’s work, though Doris accepts the explanation that they’re just giving a little additional help to people who want to connect with loved ones.

After an intentionally humorous encounter with a Ouija board, Paulina suggests to Alice that it might make a good prop. Alice purchases one, but it’s young Doris who begins to use it, ignoring the rule about not playing alone. Soon some very unusual things are happening in the Zander household.

One twist here is that Alice and Doris are both delighted with this proof that the supernatural exists. It helps pay the mortgage, provides comfort to Alice’s clients and, most of all, make mother and younger daughter feel that they are still in the presence of the girls’ late father.

Paulina, however, sees some pretty disturbing things and finally turns to one of her Catholic school teachers, Father Tom (Henry Thomas), for help.

The Ouija board turns out to simply be a conduit for what turns into a story of demonic possession, but it’s done so adroitly that we’re fine being carried along. Director Mike Flanagan and his co-screenwriter Jeff Howard have a good feel for how to earn shivers, with some quite horrible things in soft focus in the background. They also build momentum well and come up with an especially good narrative jolt about how the board interacts with its environment.

OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL also has a very strong cast. Basso is magnetic, with great range. Young Wilson goes from childish (but never cloying) innocence to extreme malice splendidly. Reaser is warm and maternal and Thomas puts a lot of humanity into his man of the cloth wrestling with regrets. Genre fans will be pleased to note that Doug Jones lends his gifts to an especially frightening entity.

There are a few false notes (nobody in 1967 was talking about “closure”), but for the most part, OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL is a success. We get caught up in its tale, we’re interested in the characters, and we get as scared as we should be. Between this, LIGHTS OUT and CONJURING 2, 2016 may be the year when PG-13 horror finally gets a good name again.

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Comments:

  1. It’s time that Michael Fimoognari be recognized as one of the best cinemographers on the market right now. Most people that don’t watch horror movies won’t be familiar with his work. But Fimognari is as talented as they come. He shot a movie called “Visions” last year that just blew me away, the movie itself was okay, but the whole experience was its cinematography, every frame of Fimognari’s shot is like a well crafted painting.

    The Evil

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