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USA 2016
Directed by
Mike Flanagan
99 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Chris Thompson
3.5 stars

Ouija: Origin of Evil

Synopsis: In 1967 Los Angeles, a widowed mother, Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) operates a séance business with the help of her two daughters Paulina (Annalise Basso) and Doris (Lulu Wilson). When Alice brings a Ouija board into her repertoire, she unwittingly releases an authentic evil spirit into their home which possesses Lulu and begins to terrorise the family. Frightened and desperate, they enlist the help of Father Tom (Henry Thomas), the Principal of the girls’ Catholic school, and together they try to save Lulu and send her possessor back to the dark side.

I didn’t see the first outing (Ouija, d. Stiles White, 2014) of this board-game-based horror movie but by all accounts, I didn’t miss much. Still, it did good business at the box office, enough to convince the producers (including Michael Bay) to come back for seconds. And I’m not sorry that they did. This time around it’s a sequel (hence the ‘origin’ reference in the title) and it the late ‘60s which provide a backdrop of humanity pushing the bounds of the known world as it takes its first forays into space, a good setting for a story that resides in a very different kind of unknown world.

This is the first directing role for Mike Flanagan who comes from a background in screenwriting and editing. Both sets of skills are put to good use here (he co-wrote the screenplay with Jeff Howard) and, despite ticking a lot of the usual shock-horror boxes, they find some refreshing ideas to lift their film above the pack.
The film begins with a séance that has the requisite bumps and scrapes and blown-out candles, but as the bereaved customers leave, we are taken ‘backstage’ to see how Alice and her two girls make the spooky stuff work. It’s a nice touch and allows the older daughter, Paulina, to express her doubts about the trickery they are foisting on the clients although Alice counters that with her view that they’re not cheating anyone out of anything; they’re providing some comfort and relief to people in a time of need. It’s something this family knows about, with the loss of their husband and father still a recent event.

Then we move to a teenage party where the Ouija board comes out and, for a moment, it seems like this will be just another teen-scream flick but, cleverly, this trope is used to set Paulina up even more strongly as the voice of reason in this story – another nice touch. It’s the adult here who ignores the warnings of the child and opens the door to the dark arts.

The cast is strong, especially the girls. This is not Wilson’s first brush with evil. We saw her recently in Scott Derrickson’s disappointing Deliver us From Evil (2014) and Basso, who was so good earlier this year in Matt Ross’ Captain Fantastic delivers another great performance carrying the bulk of the film.

In telling this story, Flanagan and Howard have found echoes of more successful horror films like William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973), Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), Tobe Hooper’s original Poltergeist (1982), and even a bit of Jerry Zucker’s Ghost (1990). There’s no rip-off going on here, just a residue of some of the more unsettling elements those films contained. And as with most of the better horror films, this story has more to offer than just a tingling spine, loud noises and scary special effects. It reminds us that the legacy of great acts of evil can live on long after they have been perpetrated, and that the death of a loved one is a painful and traumatic time during which we are vulnerable and, often desperate to find ways to reconcile the loss.




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