Ouija: Origin Of Evil review

The first Ouija film scored at the box office, but few loved it. Ouija 2? A big improvement...

It’s possible that many of you clicking on this review just want to know if this is a better movie than 2014’s Ouija. The short answer is yes and substantially so. It’s being marketed as a new standalone story (and, indeed, you don’t need to see Ouija at all to understand Origin Of Evil) but viewers with long/detailed memories will pick up quickly that this is fact an origin story – set 47 years earlier – for evil ghost Doris from the first film. Luckily, between the period setting and the change in creative team, they’ve done a good job of distancing it and, while the board may look the same, we’re playing a very different game. Here, Doris Zander (Lulu Wilson) is a regular little girl who lives in a nice suburban home with her mother Alice (Elizabeth Reaser) and older sister Lina (Annalise Basso), all of whom are dealing with the recent loss of beloved husband/father Roger, who was killed by a drunk driver. Doris’ school life isn’t great – she’s an introverted child and bullied as a result – and her home life is a little weird, on account of mom being a (fraudulent but ultimately good-hearted) fortune teller who stages elaborate séances to bring in some money. But, y’know, despite all that, Doris is doing a pretty good job of keeping her chin up and being all upbeat and adorable. That is until a Ouija board enters the family home and Doris finds herself drawn to it. Initially, she makes contact with what seems to be the spirit of her dad – the board answering questions that only he would know – but it soon becomes apparent that Doris has a psychic gift and can genuinely channel spirits from all walks of life. She hears them whispering things in her ear, she says, and sometimes when she looks through the planchette, she even sees them appear… The first half of the movie has a bittersweet almost Stephen King-y feel as shy, bullied Doris makes new spirit friends and helps out mom with the psychic stuff, becoming quite a hit with the clients. She even finds some money hidden in the walls of the house, thanks to a hot spectral tip. Everything’s coming up Doris! But of course, this is a horror film so – despite the deceptively slow build – things eventually turn dark. Hella dark, in fact. It’s amazing that anyone using a Ouija board hasn’t worked this out by now, but spirits love lying about who they are and some of them are very angry indeed. The dark energies begin to consume Doris, whose behaviour gets strange and unpredictable, leading to a tense final reel of horrifying revelations and ever-growing evil. Director Mike Flanagan has a strong pedigree when it comes to these types of melancholic, morbid horror stories and several of Origin Of Evil‘s themes echo those he explored in Absentia and Oculus (e.g. dealing with grief, trying to silence an insistent internal darkness). This one is more accessible to a wider cinema audience – and bears a few of the Blumhouse spookshow trademarks – but is still unmistakably Flanagan’s work. The characters are well-crafted, their plight feels real and they’re brought to life brilliantly by the principal cast. Reaser and Basso both excel as the terrified mother and sister watching their beloved Doris’s spiral into Hell, but Lulu Wilson steals the picture with a brave performance that one can only hope doesn’t screw her mind up for life… Of course, if you’re going to watch a horror film, the most important thing is ‘does it scare you?’ and, well, Origin Of Evil certainly gave me the willies. Frustratingly, it’s the lower-key scenes that deliver the deepest chills and every time it descends into CGI antics, it derails a little. The ‘demons’ are particularly awful – a textbook lesson in why some things should stay in the shadows – and the weird facial distortions (yoinked from the first Ouija film) look hilariously like Snapchat filters. But even these missteps can’t take away the stronger scares – the menacing brilliance of a nine-year-old angelically describing what it’s like to be strangled to death, or the white-knuckle tension as the dark history of the Zander house is finally revealed (all pulled off mostly with just clever dialogue and editing). The intricate production design really helps with the creepy atmosphere too. There are some beautiful little touches for the eagle-eyed, like how a Louis Wain cat painting hangs over Doris’ bed; Wain being a schizophrenic painter whose cute but haunting pictures of cats (that grew more abstract and intricate in his later years) have been cited in psychology texts as showing the effects of mental deterioration over time. I mention this just as an example of how much effort has gone into even the smallest detail of the Zander house and how the aesthetic choices play subtly into the horror onscreen. A lens distortion here, a touch of chiaroscuro there; it all combines to conjure up a sense of dread that, by the end of the film, had me feeling properly uneasy. This level of care lets me forgive the occasional lapse in judgement when it comes to ropey CGI and spindly pale girls crawling on the ceiling like it’s 2003. While it’s unclear at this stage if there will be a third Ouija film (or indeed if it’ll be a ‘Doris’ threequel or an unrelated Halloween III style film about a new board) I’m hoping there will be. The leap in quality from the so-so first film to this one is impressive and it’s got a dark streak that beats anything in the Insidious or Conjuring films. Sure, it’s still a studio-backed crowd-pleaser and will probably play better to a teenage audience than a grizzled old horror one and yet still; this particular grizzled old horror fan enjoyed the game thoroughly and isn’t ready to move the planchette to GOODBYE just yet…

Ouija: Origin Of Evil is in UK cinemas from October 21st.

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4 out of 5