‘Ouija: Origin of Evil’ Review | Now You’re Playing With Supernatural Powers
I remain a little bit confused about the whole point of the Ouija series, because if there’s one thing we’ve all learned from those movies it’s that you should never, under any circumstances, EVER buy a Ouija board. In fact, if these films are to be believed, Hasbro is dangerously irresponsible for even selling them in the first place. Turning your product into a bunch of horror movies, and really grim ones no less, is either extremely counterproductive or a very risky exercise in reverse psychology.
But if you absolutely have to make Ouija movies, you might as well make good ones. The first Ouija didn’t qualify, since it was a limp and completely forgettable spook story with a silly mythology and shoddy scares, but Ouija: Origin of Evil is certainly an improvement. The majority of Mike Flanagan’s supernatural thriller is a very smart, very frightening film with intriguing characters and unusual ways to unnerve you.
The story takes place in 1967, when a family of charlatan psychics decides to jump on the latest trend and incorporate a Ouija board into their fake seances. Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) explains to her children, the teenaged Paulina (Annalise Basso) and younger Doris (Lulu Wilson), that they are not con artists, they’re exchanging hope for a very reasonable fee. So when it turns out that Doris actually can speak to ghosts using the Ouija board, the revelation comes with a palpable sense of relief. The ghosts are real, the Zander family can talk to them, and that means that the world is full of wonders. Profitable wonders.
It’s undeniably refreshing to watch a horror movie in which people discover proof of the existence of an afterlife and consider, if only for a little while, what a relief that must be. Ouija: Origin of Evil is, for the most part, a very intelligent motion picture, driven by characters who behave like rational and emotional human beings. For most of the film, director Mike Flanagan wisely lets the Zander family drive the story, and we watch in rapt suspense as their real-life drama transforms into a fantasy, and then gradually warps into a horror story after Doris succumbs to malevolent forces.
That’s most of the film. Sadly, there’s more to it than that. Ouija: Origin of Evil falls headlong into frustrating territory towards the end, when characters start behaving wildly out of character just to contort them into a situation that makes no sense. And why must they do these things? Because Ouija: Origin of Evil isn’t just another movie that happens to have a Ouija board in it, it’s a prequel to the original Ouija, and therein lies the tragedy. The storyline of the first movie is so unbelievably weak that it taints Origin of Evil by association, preventing this new and involving and disturbing horror film from ending in a way that makes sense.
So once again, the Ouija franchise manages to shoot itself in the foot. An off-putting marketing scheme, a terrible first movie, and a fantastic second movie that becomes a lot less fantastic because of its misguided fealty to the last one. Thank goodness that Ouija: Origin of Evil is so suspenseful and so skillful for so very long that even the disappointing finale can’t ruin it. It’s almost one of the best horror movies of the year, and while that means it’s still pretty good, it also means it’s a little infuriating. The first Ouija was such a tragedy that it’s now haunting the whole franchise, bringing down the property values in the process.
Top Photo: Universal Pictures
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved, Rapid Reviews and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.