Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 39 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Disturbing Images, Terror and Thematic Elements
Directed by: Mike Flanagan
Written by: Mike Flanagan & Jeff Howard
Starring: Elizabeth Reaser, Annalise Basso, Lulu Wilson, Henry Thomas & Parker Mack
I had no initial interest in reviewing OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL. This was partially because I’ve never bothered watching 2014’s OUIJA (which looked terrible) and partially because this film looked like an equally bad cash-in to that film (despite talented Mike Flanagan being attached to it). When a long-time fan of this blog contacted me last October and asked me to review it because he was shocked at how good it was, I decided that I would eventually give it a go. It turns out that OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL is quite good. This horror flick isn’t going to blow anyone’s mind, but it’s far better than it probably has any right to be. If you’re looking for a nifty little throwback to 70’s supernatural horror, then OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL should satisfy your cinematic craving.
The year is 1967 and the place is Los Angeles, California. Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) is a struggling widow who’s trying to keep her house afloat and take care of her two daughters, teenage Lina (Annalise Basso) and 9-year-old Doris (Lulu Wilson). Alice barely makes ends meet by passing herself off as a psychic and performing phony séances for gullible folks with lots of money. Her scam is beginning to dry up, but Alice attempts to inject new life into it by bringing a Ouija board into the fake ceremonies. The Ouija board actually seems to have a connection to the spirit world, which at first seems fantastic…and then takes a dark turn when creepy Doris begins to exhibit signs of possession. Supernatural shit soon hits the fan!
OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL kicks things off to a good start with an old-school Universal logo and retro-styled credits. This film feels like it’s straight out of the 70’s heyday of satanic panic flicks, complete with cigarette burns in the upper right-hand corner and a soundtrack that fits the time period. Besides covering the superficial aspects of an older horror film, OUIJA also nails a less-is-more slow-burn approach for the first two-thirds of its perfectly paced 99-minute running time. There are conversations that evoke spookiness purely through lines of dialogue and little details in the background evoke more chills than any pop-up scares ever could.
Speaking of which, OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL isn’t immune from typical CGI jump scares that modern horror seems to be riddled with, but this prequel uses them sparingly. The cheesy CGI mainly arrives in the final third when the story throws everything at the wall to see what sticks. This being said, there is one hell of an effective scare that made me jump about a foot in the air. Props to Mike Flanagan for continuing to prove why he’s a rising talent in the world of horror. This single moment reminded me of the more effective bits in 2014’s OCULUS. Not everything works though, because a glowing-eyed demon is very cheesy. The same can be said about some laughable mouth-stretching and wall-crawling possession hijinks.
One thing that I did not expect OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL to do was to build strong characters, but it pulled off this feat rather well. There are scenes specifically geared towards the family dynamic and developing this spooky story’s main players. Elizabeth Reaser is convincing as a tired single mother trying to make things work…and ultimately inviting supernatural shit into her home. Annalise Basso (who also appeared in Flanagan’s OCULUS) is well cast as difficult teenage daughter/loving sister Lina. Lulu Wilson is appropriately eerie as Doris, saying disturbing lines of dialogue in a cutesy innocent way that makes them come off as even more disturbing. These three performers and the chemistry between them are a main driving force in this movie. It only sweetens the deal that Henry Rollins plays a concerned priest who has taken a shine to the troubled family.
OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL isn’t the best horror film from 2016 or the scariest supernatural flick in years, but it’s far better than it has any right to be. This prequel (to a teeny-bopper cash-grab) actually managed to be competently made, well-written and packed in a few effective scares to boot. The retro vibe is sure to please fans of old-school supernatural horror and the slow-burn of the first two acts allows a spooky atmosphere to build. Though it does have some cheesy CGI scares and a needless end credits scene to hint towards the possibilities of a OUIJA 3, OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL is a surprisingly solid horror flick! If you’re in the mood for a good demonic possession movie or atmospheric ghost fare, then you’ll likely enjoy OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL!