Movie review: ‘Ouija: Origins of Evil’

Flanagan successfully revives franchise based on board game

"Ouija: Origins of Evil

"Ouija: Origins of Evil

 

A family of phony fortune tellers perform seances for those desperate to connect with lost loved ones before inadvertently inviting their own evil spirits with the use of a Ouija board in “Ouija: Origins of Evil,” a sharp, confidently directed follow up to 2014’s major horror misstep “Ouija.”

It oddly enough, marks the first well received film based off a Hasbro board game. Directed by Mike Flanagan (“Oculus”), who’s given the task to revive a franchise already put to death by its blatant cash grab of a predecessor, “Ouija: Origins of Evil” manages to undo the errors of “Ouija” without erasing its mythology, and effectively building on the scares emblematic of its PG-13 rating, which manage to work despite their unremarkable design.

Set in the mid-1960s to great effect, “Ouija: Origins of Evil” utilizes its production design and period detail to create a more engaging atmosphere, and makes terrifying use of the iconic spirit board famous for terrifying children and adults for decades, by introducing us to the game at the height of its inception and popularity.

The characters of “Ouija: Origins of Evil” don’t coincidentally come in contact and play with an ancient board of supernatureal powers but simply buy one in a department store. Unfortunately for them, the board has rules — never play alone; never play in a graveyard; and always say goodbye — that they can’t seem to follow.

Flanagan ingeniously opens the film up in the middle of an atmospherically drenched seance, where we see the fortune telling mother, Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser), revealing the spirit of a lost loved one to the husband and his skeptical daughter through shaking tables, blown out candles and ominous shadowy figures, all taken to the point where the old man almost has a heart attack. Moments later, Alice’s daughters — Doris (Lulu Wilson), the creepy 9-year-old portal to the underworld, and Lina (Annalise Basso), the teenage skeptic whose interest lines up more typically in older boys — pop out of contraptions designed to create the spooky effects, revealing to the audience the fraud it was all along.

But Alice approaches their deception as a positive: a therapeutic way to give families closure after they unexpectedly lose someone close to them without properly saying goodbye. The Zander family is providing a service to others they desperately need themselves after unexpectedly losing their own father.

The screenplay, written by Mike Flanagan and Jeff Howard ( “Oculus”), lacks clutter and builds character.

It wisely creates a scenario where our primary characters fall for the same tricks they perform for others. They’re so desperate to believe what they’re seeing to be true that they wholeheartedly accept it without question.

Very late into the picture, “Ouija: Origins of Evil” does go off the rails. It injects a sentimental touch that dissipates any built up dread, and its surrealistic aspects come across more confusing than terrifying. “Ouija: Origins of Evil” is very much worth seeing, but it’s worth keeping anticipation in check because of a reception that’s more surprised about it being a decent followup to “Ouija” than it being great horror.

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