Weekly Review: Ouija – Origin of Evil (2016)

In 1967, a widowed mother of two runs a side business that claims to help clients interact with their departed loved ones. When the Ouija Board is released, she brings it into her home, thinking it will be a good addition for her clients. She thinks the board is harmless, but it will soon unleash an evil she never could have expected.

Ouija: Origin of Evil is a prequel to the 2014 movie Ouija. I’ll be honest. I did not like Ouija (2014). I thought it started out as a good concept, but it was wasted on a below average teen screamer that had far too many characters. Rather than being really creepy, Ouija just became a waiting game to see which character would die next and when/how it would happen.

When I heard that a second movie was going to be made that was directly connected to Ouija, I was not anticipating it at all. That is, until I learned that it was being directed by Mike Flanagan.

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Flanagan is quickly climbing up my list of favorite directors. His previous films include Absentia (2011), Oculus (2013), Hush (2016), and Before I Wake (held in the dungeons of Relativity Media with no U.S. release date). He has the ability to make his stories very compelling and his characters likable. This doesn’t usually happen in movies of this genre. More often than not, in horror movies, the viewer just waits for the characters to die (see my description of Ouija above). In Flanagan’s films, you genuinely want them to make it through. The stories he makes are solid, and the scares just add on to that.

This brings me to Ouija: Origin of Evil. While this is the second movie to come out of the Ouija franchise, it is technically a prequel. The events of Origin of Evil lead directly into the events of Ouija (2014). You don’t have to see the first Ouija in order to appreciate Origin of Evil though. This film doesn’t feel like a sequel or prequel. It stands on its own, and it does so extremely well.

Since I wasn’t a huge fan of Ouija (2014), the details of its plot didn’t really stick to my memory over the years. Even with this minimal information retained about the first movie, I was never confused or bored by Ouija: Origin of Evil. It really could have been a stand alone film, and it wouldn’t have made any difference. If anything, the fact that it works so well as an individual piece only helps the first movie seem better.

Typical of Flanagan’s style, each character in Ouija: Origin of Evil is compelling in their own individual way. The widowed mother Alice (played by Elizabeth Reaser) is grieving over the recent loss of her husband Roger, but remaining strong for her daughters as much as she can. 15-year-old Paulina (played by Annalise Basso) is a rebellious teenager, who still very clearly cares for her family. 9-year-old Doris (played by Lulu Wilson) is adorably naive in truly understanding the circumstances around her. As events unfold throughout the film, you find yourself completely involved with their plight. You feel like you know this family.

Another notable mention, in terms of performance, for Ouija: Origin of Evil is Father Tom Hogan (played by Henry Thomas). I knew I recognized this actor throughout the film, but I was never sure from where. A brief Google search revealed that I was remembering Henry Thomas from his role as Eliot in E.T. Thomas does a pretty solid job in his role, and he only adds to the overall feeling of familiarity with the characters in the film.

I absolutely loved the characters and the story within Ouija: Origin of Evil. Everything seemed to work cohesively, and I really enjoyed how the story played out. The set and costume design definitely worked well with the time period when the movie was set. When you pair all of these factors together, it makes for a really immersive experience. I completely believed what I was being shown. I was into it.

With that being said, some of the camera work and editing choices were iffy for me. In order to fit with the time period when the film was set, the creators tried to give nods to older ways of filmmaking. An older version of the Universal Pictures logo was used. Antique lenses were used. They definitely took a lot of reference from classic films like The Exorcist for their cinematography. This, most notably, included camera zooms. The zooms were my biggest complaint. They just felt very rough. I found them more distracting than anything.

While the film was shot digitally, I noticed some things that appeared to have been added in post to make the film fit the time period. There were cigarette burns added (a reference to the older days when film reels would need to be switched for screening). I thought it was a nice sentiment, and for the most part, I didn’t really notice it. When I did notice it, however, the feeling wasn’t authentic in the slightest. There were also some split diopter uses (when the background and foreground are both in focus) that I felt were quite distracting.

Despite those slight negatives, I really did enjoy Ouija: Origin of Evil. It was a massive step up from its predecessor, and whether you watched the first movie or not, you may very well enjoy this film as a stand alone piece. It has a lot going for it. I do recommend it.

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