Perhaps the most shocking and surprising treat of the 2016 Halloween season is director Mike Flanagan's prequel tale "Ouija: Origin of Evil"- a skillfully crafted, tasteful and highly atmospheric follow- up to the disastrously bad 2014 thriller "Ouija." It's frankly stunning just how good a film Flanagan was able to build from such a poor foundation, weaving a tale that honestly not only runs laps around it's far inferior predecessor... but honestly made me completely forget about what came before. In my mind, "Ouija" will be a forgotten victim of studio greed, while this prequel will stand tall as the "true" film based on the iconic and controversial board-game of terror.
In the 1960's, widow Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) works as a fortune teller out of her home, staging false séances with the help of her teenage daughter Paulina (Annalise Basso) and younger child Doris. (Lulu Wilson) After purchasing a Ouija board as a new gimmick for her work, Alice does not notice that Doris has become overtaken by a deranged and mysterious force associated with the board, instead believing that her young daughter's newfound abilities and knowledge of things she could not possibly know are signs that unlike her, Doris is a real medium. However, as Doris' abilities become gradually all the more powerful and sinister, Alice and Paulina must band together to try and break her free from the devious spirits of the past that have taken ahold of her physical form...
Flanagan directs from a script co-written by Jeff Howard, and much like his wonderful previous efforts "Oculus" and "Hush", here he continues to shine as one of the finest new voices in horror. There's a certain sense of taste and thoughtfulness he injects into his work, as he takes his time to try and establish strong character and interpersonal relationships, in addition to identifiable human drama which helps to accentuate the fear that builds. He also just knows how to deliver a darned good scare- a skill he uses expertly throughout the entire runtime here to build a great sense of foreboding dread.
The performances are all stellar as well, helping to add to the film's high quality and impact. Elizabeth Reaser is fantastic as the mother Alice, and you really get a feel for a person lost after the death of their beloved spouse who is trying to hold it together for the sake of her children. Wilson is a great new Doris and does remarkably well for an actress of such a young age. Supporting roles by the likes of Henry Thomas are all uniformly strong and help to round out the cast in likable performances. And Annalise Basso steals the show as Paulina (also known as "Lina"), who becomes our main focus and is a strong presence on-screen. At only 17 years old, Basso is definitely one to keep an eye on in the future. She possesses talent far beyond her years, and is the beating heart of the film as a sister and daughter struggling to help her sibling and mother from the forces at play- both supernatural and emotional.
The film does falter at times a bit, which is where it loses points. Despite the first film being decidedly very poor by comparison, this film does a bit of distracting ret-con work that may bother those who are familiar with the original. Some major details of the backstory and rules are changed, which made it feel a bit inorganic as a continuation. It's also a bit too heavy on the scares up- front, which lessened their impact. I would have preferred more slow a buildup. And it does lack some drama since this is a prequel and you'll be able to guess some of what happens based on this fact.
Still, that cannot stop this from being a darned good and very well- assembled supernatural horror. It's not one of the best horror films ever made by any means, but it's a solid and highly entertaining thriller boasting some heart, some good scares and a great cast. This is the movie you've been waiting for if you've wanted to see a movie based around the idea of the dreaded Ouija board. My advice? Skip out on the first film and just watch this as a stand-alone. It's far more rewarding an experience than the awful original could ever hope to be.
I give "Ouija: Origin of Evil" a strong 8 out of 10. If you're open minded, be sure to give it a shot, especially if the last one let you down. Take it from me... this is a very pleasant surprise.
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