Ouija: Origin of Evil
2016, PG-13, 99 min. Directed by Mike Flanagan. Starring Lulu Wilson, Annalise Basso, Henry Thomas, Doug Jones, Alexis G. Zall, Kate Siegel, Elizabeth Reaser, Parker Mack.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 21, 2016
Hasbro Studios continues to churn out big-screen popcorn knockoffs of my childhood treasures, and so I continue to hold out high hopes for the arrival of a Wallace Shawn-directed mash-up of Spirograph and Operation, hopefully to be lensed in Psilocybin-a-Rama at π fps and starring a CGI Moe Howard voiced by Christopher Walken. Alas and alack, my solitary vigil continues. In the meantime, this second entry in the Ouija board franchise is a surprisingly effective stopgap measure that finally captures some of the eerie, planchette panache of the actual board game in its mid-Sixties through mid-Seventies heyday. Vastly superior to its cheesy, contemporary precursor, Ouija: Origin is a slow burner of a horror film that’s bolstered in the uncanny department by a fully onboard cast and a rendering of 1967 Los Angeles that’d do Mad Men’s final season proud.
Widowed Alice Zander (Reaser) is a sham psychic and spiritual medium who raps tables and reads palms for a low-rent living with the assistance of her teen daughter Lina (Basso) and wide-eyed 9-year-old Doris (Wilson). Despite the frankly mild concern of Father Tom (Thomas, of E.T. fame), Alice believes she’s performing a public service, at five bucks a shot, to the living, providing “closure” to the grief-stricken. Lina’s fed up with the scam, but after she encounters the new Ouija board craze while at a friend’s house, the Hasbro phenom is incorporated into the family’s thriving spookshow chicanery. Thriving because the first thing the board does – with the assistance of little Doris, who looks for all the afterlife like she just wandered in off of a Mario Bava film – is to reveal a cached purse of much-needed money secreted in the basement walls. The second shock comes when Doris claims to have been communicating with her late father via the board. Soon enough, her eyes roll back white, she begins automatically writing in Polish, and the dark secrets of their sunny, suburban, SoCal home are revealed.
Ouija: Origin shouldn’t work, but it does, building a genuinely creepy and altogether October-friendly feel, up until a third-act, demon infested breakdown, when all hell breaks loose and the fun gives way to cheap shock shots. (Literally: There’s Nazis.) It’s peppered with genre references that rarely feel like total steals – shout-out to Hitchcock’s Family Plot and Roeg’s Don’t Look Now – and both Jeff Howard’s script and Flanagan’s direction are clearly in sync. The film even goes so far as to mimic the 35mm reel-change marks in the upper left-hand corner of the screen every 15 minutes or so. Now that’s attention to period detail. Not so much horrific as it is just skeletons-in-the-basement creepy, this is a shuddery fun surprise for horror fans, who by the way should stick around until the closing credits are done for a special (if inevitable) trick or treat.