A second Ouija movie provides an interesting challenge to a team of filmmakers. The 2014 original was a well-shot, adequately watchable, and eminently forgettable wide-release horror movie. Furthermore, it did a nice bit of business at the box office, even if it didn’t win over all that many film critics or seasoned horror fans. So how do you revisit the well once again while addressing what didn’t work all that well the first time around?
Well, first off, you can go the prequel route. Ouija was a contemporary thriller about a group of bland, modern kids who mess with the titular “game” board and (temporarily) live to regret it. On the other hand, Ouija: Origin of Evil takes place many years before (in 1967, to be precise), benefitting greatly from some fantastic period detail, a small but very strong cast, and a slightly more grown-up perspective than its predecessor. It’s still a deliberately-paced, slow-burn, family friendly, PG-13-level horror flick but there’s a bit more narrative gristle to chew on this time around.
Melancholy widow Alice (Elizabeth Reaser) is the mother of two young daughters, and together they run a shady-yet-well-intentioned “fortune teller” outfit out of their creepy old house. When teenaged Lena (Annalise Basso) gets busted playing Ouija (and drinking) with friends, that inspires her mom to add the ominous device to her collection of psychic props. And that’s when little Doris (Lulu Wilson) starts messing with the Ouija board… which leads to all sorts of miscommunication between Alice, her confused daughters, and some highly devious spirits from beyond the grave. On one hand, Ouija: Original of Evil is a fairly standard haunted house story, but it’s the dynamic between the mother and her loyal daughters that elevates the movie beyond the more standard “horror sequel / prequel” trappings.
Not surprisingly, given the director’s previous horror movies (Absentia, Oculus, Hush, and the upcoming Before I Wake), the screenplay (written by Flanagan and co-writer Jeff Howard) spends a nice amount of screen time letting us get to know the characters. Aside from Alice, Lena, and Doris, we also get a somewhat heroic, average joe priest (played quite well by Henry Thomas), a few typical bullies for Doris to contend with, and a nefarious presence who claims to be Alice’s late husband, but could very well be any nasty old ghost who knows how to speak Ouija.
Those who are in the market for a blood-soaked carnage-fest would probably do better by picking a different horror flick, but those who can sink their teeth into a simple yet effective story of mothers, daughters, and the ghosts that come between them will probably find something to appreciate here. It’s hard to say if there’s enough narrative meat on the “Ouija board” bones to warrant a few more sequels, but speaking as just one horror fan who tolerated and then promptly forgot all about Ouija ’14, I found myself more than reasonably engaged by what Flanagan and company cooked up for this offbeat, soft-spoken, and subtly spooky prequel.
Rating: 3.5 sneakily psychic burritos out of 5
Featured Image: Universal Pictures