Before seeing the above film, I thought it wise to sit down and watch its predecessor, Ouija (2014), directed by Stiles White, although I knew how fantastically the film had flopped. I feel I need to discuss this film to some extent before I get into the prequel.
As expected, Ouija (2014) was by far one of the most poorly put together films I ever had to sit through. Based on the writing alone, it was doomed before anyone ever set up a camera. Stiles White, with his catastrophic directorial debut, created the story of Laine, a high school senior whose best friend, Debbie, is found hanging from her neck after finding a Ouija board in her attic. After this, we get about a half hour of different characters saying, “I’m sorry for your loss,” before we start wondering when something’s going to happen. But it never really does. Laine and her friends try contacting Debbie through the Ouija board, only to open the door to something evil. Through terrible acting, ridiculous death scenes, and surprisingly bad sound design, White ends the film with a laughably atrocious finale: [SPOILER ALERT] Laine and her sister essentially have to outplay a ghost on the Ouija board, assisted by their dead friend.
Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016) is truly not comparable to its predecessor in any aspect of filmmaking. Mike Flanagan, known for directing (and co-writing/editing) Oculus (2013) and Hush (2016), was brought on to co-write, direct, and edit this film. Both of his previous films have been respectable and relatively original entries in the horror genre. Origin is no different. It doesn’t necessarily revolutionize horror in any way, nor do I expect it to be remembered as a horror or cult classic, but it is more than solid as a film.
Alice Zander is a single mother of two young girls, recently widowed by her husband Roger. Together, the three of them “scam” people through fake séances, although it’s done in a way that comforts the families of the dead, rather than just ripping them off. Lina, the older of the two daughters, suggests that her mother add a Ouija board to the setup after playing it at a friend’s house. Alice takes her advice and they soon find out that Doris, the youngest daughter, is extremely in tune with the spirit world.
The most notable, and most successful aspect of this film is its masterful cinematography, made all the more beautiful by the nostalgic 1960s set design. Flanagan and DP, Michael Fimognari, contrast meticulously perfect framing and symmetry with strange angles and interesting camera movements. However, most impressive is the fact that the film employs TWO, count ’em, TWO split diopter shots; both of which are efficiently used to build tension, rather than simply included to look pretty.
What separates Origin from its 2014 predecessor is the fact that the former does not rely on the Ouija board throughout the film. Mike Flanagan simply uses the board as a means to bring the evil into the house and in turn leads us into an eerie possession storyline. The film takes a more tense, atmospheric approach to the scare factor, rather than piling on jump scare after jump scare as so many modern horror films do. The scares in Origin are well orchestrated and sure to spook.
Finally, one aspect of this film that was truly refreshing was the female domination of the cast and plot. Annalise Basso, Elizabeth Reaser, and Lulu Wilson all deliver compelling performances, allowing the audience to empathize with their characters and feel their fear. Lulu Wilson carries much of the film’s creepy tension and uncomfortable encounters, and does so with great success.
Ouija: Origin of Evil is in no way destined to become a modern classic of the horror genre, nor would I consider it a masterpiece of filmmaking. However, it is a visually beautiful and overall entertaining film. Mike Flanagan delivers both deeply unsettling, eerie moments as well as true scares, and peppers in some genuine laughs for good measure. If you’re looking for an amazing horror film that will change your life and scare your face off, watch The Shining. If you’re looking to get spooked and enjoy a decent film, check out Ouija: Origin of Evil.