Film Review: "Ouija: Origin of Evil"

Mike Flanagan takes over as director for “Ouija: Origin of Evil,” the prequel to the 2014 film “Ouija.”

Promotional poster for "Ouija." (Photo courtesy of IMDB)

Promotional poster for "Ouija." (Photo courtesy of IMDB)

Elizabeth Reaser (“Twilight”) stars in the film as Alice Zander and is joined by Lulu Wilson, Annalise Basso (“Oculus”), and Henry Thomas (“E.T. the Extra Terrestrial”).

After purchasing a Ouija Board as a prop for her fortune telling career, Alice Zander’s daughter, Doris (Wilson), gains the ability to speak with the spirit world, which may or may not be a demonic possession in disguise.

What stands out the most in this film is how deep it goes into its time period. The film is set in 1967, and director Mike Flanagan and cinematographer Michael Fimognari work together to make a film that looks and feels as if it were actually made in the 1960s. The colors of the clothes and the furniture are the 60s. The music is the 60s. The artificial grain on the screen is the 60s. This is a minor detail, but Flanagan even takes the time to include cigarette burns. To the unknowing, a cigarette burn is a quick marker that appears on the upper-right hand side of the screen that lets the projectionist know when to switch between film reels. Today, this is unneeded, as almost films are shown through a digital projector, which requires no switching, but this added detail further immerses the audience into the 1960s feel.

Flanagan is refreshing in how he handles the scares in the film. Instead of relying on cheap jump-scares and loud noises, he works in several scares that rely on visuals alone. At several points in the film, something will simply show up on screen, whether it be in the background or the foreground, all without a single loud boom.

Granted, the film isn’t perfect. A couple of fakeout jump-scares, complete with a loud noise, do make their way into the film, and they are groan inducing. However, the film holds more creative scares than it does bad ones, making the film still worth audience members time.

With this, the special effects aren’t exactly top-of-the-line. The film was made on a budget of $9 million, so something like “Avatar” shouldn’t be expected, but when some of the CGI is on par with a college student messing around with Photoshop, it’s distracting to say the least. CGI is kept to a minimum here, as the film relies mostly on practical effects. Most notably in the scenes with the Ouija Board, the film makes use of stop-motion animation. This is a dying art form, so it’s nice to see it being utilized here.

Surprisingly, the film boasts its fair share of decent acting. Elizabeth Reaser does a good job here. She sells her scenes with effective emotion and allows the audience to understand her character. Lulu Wilson does an impressive job for her age. She falls into some of the trappings of young actors, such as pausing and looking away between every sentence to appear more dramatic, but even with this, she’s still able to act very creepy. Henry Thomas as Father Tom does a passable job. He sells his scenes, but it seems like his main purpose in the film is to read off expository dialogue.

Annalise Basso steals the show. (Photo courtesy of comingsoon.net)

Annalise Basso steals the show. (Photo courtesy of comingsoon.net)

Annalise Basso, however, steals the show throughout the film as the sister of the possessed girl. She’s given a couple scenes that allow her to shine, and she most certainly does shine. The way that she conveys emotions through her face is so effective that she becomes the emotional center of the film. The audience is able to relate to her character, Lina, through Basso’s acting, thus allowing them to feel the audience to feel the emotions that Paulina feels. It won’t win any major awards, but it’s great work from a up-and-coming actor.

Talk about exceeding expectations. The original “Ouija” is sitting at a 7% on Rotten Tomatoes, and is generally regarded as a pretty bad movie. This film, however, is sitting at an 80% at the time of this review being written. While this isn’t a great movie, in part due to some cheap scares and distractingly poor CGI, it’s a decent horror flick that will get anybody in the Halloween mood. It has a great tone created through minor details from its director, as well as quite a few creative scares and a strong performance amongst good performances. It gets a spooky recommendation.