A single mother struggles to keep her family together when one of her daughters inadvertently summons evil into their home.
Mike Flanagan, 2016
After suffering the loss of her husband, single mother Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reeser) returns to her mother’s trade of scamming people into believing she’s a medium. Her daughters, stubborn teenager Lina (Annalise Basso) and naive Doris (Lulu Wilson) assist her with the scam. While shopping one day, Alice sees a Ouija game in a toy store and decides to buy it as a prop for her business. Doris finds herself drawn to the game as a tool to help her communicate with her dead father – but she starts communicating with a new group of departed “friends” instead. Alice is enthralled by Doris’s newfound talent, keeping Doris home from school to help with the business. Meanwhile, Doris’s personality start to change. Rebellious, sceptical Lina becomes concerned for her family, asking school teacher Father Tom Hogan (Henry Thomas) for help.
I’ve become convinced that watching the original Ouija and this film back to back is essential viewing. The differences between the two films are stark and startling. The film takes the dull and silly premise of Ouija and fleshes out its background, improving the filmmaking on every level – script, performance, direction, editing – to create a much better film around a silly premise. Ouija: Origin of Evil, against all odds and despite its title, spends most of its runtime as a family drama that explores the effects of grief and loss on a family in the 60s. The period aesthetic works in the film’s favour, not only in the set design and costumes, but also in giving Doris a very particular look that creates a new kind of movie monster. The “evil little girl” trope has been done to death, but there’s so much more emotional weight to it in this film. Director Mike Flanagan knows how to frame a shot to get the most out of it, how to use a single shot of a camera panning over a Ouija board to maximum spooky effect. The scene where Doris’s possession begins is cleverly crafted for maximum shock effect; it builds so slowly, using only diegetic sounds, clever camerawork, and Lulu Wilson’s performance to create a properly scary scene.
The film does veer into silly, overly-CG dependant territory before the end. The big final fight relies entirely too happy on exaggerated “creepy” effects, diminishing the effectiveness of Lulu Wilson’s naturally spooky acting. There is also a series of superfluous plot twist that serve to drag out the runtime rather than contributing to the story (see: everything the kid from ET does as the boring priest). However, the film’s ultimate gut-punch does a fair bit to overcome these particular shortcomings. Viewers who have seen the original film will know where Lina’s story was heading, but it’s to this film’s credit that the journey there is unexpectedly heartwrenching. The fact that the characters are relateable enough that the audience ends up rooting for them regardless of previous knowledge of how it will end speaks to some solid filmmaking. The performances from the central trio are also solid. Basso has the best arc and really sells it, going from confident, rebellious teen to concerned daughter and sister to something else entirely. Reeser holds her own, doing the emotional heavy lifting for the first half of the film as Alice’s contentious relationship with Lina and her desire to reconnect with her husband and daughter distract her from what’s really happening with Doris. Lulu Wilson’s transformation is simple, but effective. The story’s effectiveness lies in the genuine sadness behind the scary things happening; this is a family that tries to hard to hold itself together, but just can’t seem to stop suffering. There’s plenty of ham to be found as this prequel tries to tie itself in with the original and relies on some silly haunting tropes to reach its finale, but it stands head and shoulders above the original.
Ouija: Origin of Evil on IMDb