Movie Review — “Ouija: Origin of Evil”

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“Ouija: Origin of Evil” makes you appreciate the fine art of cutting a movie trailer.

You’ve got to show us enough to want to buy a ticket, but you don’t want to spoil all your surprises and effects.

This is a movie that gives away most of its secrets in its trailers, and somewhat ruins its impact by spending much of its third act over-explaining how this “House of Evil Where Playing with a Ouija Board Can Get You Killed” came to be.

But this amusing and occasionally hair-raising thriller still delivers the chills and giggles, and joins the growing honor roll of a new Hollywood Golden Age of Horror. Read through the credits of films from “Insidious” to “The Visitor,” “The Conjuring” to the “Amityville Horror” revivals. There’s a lot of overlap in producers and house styles.

They’re hiring good actors and turning them loose on scary movies. And good actors know how to register shock and awe, and how.

“Origin of Evil” is a “Ouija” prequel, an improvement on the original film — which had kids playing with a dusty old Ouija board game, breaking its rules, and paying a deadly price.

Those rules again? “Never play alone. Never play in a graveyard.” And “always say good-bye” to the spirits you’ve contacted.

In 1967, Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) makes her living as a spiritualist, someone who will contact the dead in order to help the living. “We help people,” she explains to her daughters, who assist her in the various con-job effects (doors opening, candles blowing out, etc.). “We heal their hearts.”

But when rebellious teen Lina (Paulina, for those inclined to do character research) plays a new board game with her pals, Mom picks up a Ouija (by Hasbro!) and figures to add it to their afterlife services menu. Lina (Annalise Basso) isn’t keen on it. Little Doris (Lulu Wilson) starts hearing voices and acting strangely.

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Adding to the milieu is the fact that Alice is recently widowed, that the kids miss and long to talk to their daddy (Doris prays to him). Alice is broke and about to lose their spooky old house.

And the girls are in Catholic school, where helpful Father Tom (Henry “E.T.” Thomas) is worried about their grades and their spiritual well-being, but open-minded enough to wonder if they’re messing with things they cannot control or fathom.

Reaser (“The Twilight Saga,” “Sweet Land”) is impressively wide-eyed when her daughter turns out to be capable of actually doing what she herself has always faked. Thomas, in his best role in decades, makes Father Tom as interesting as the script allows. Watch the way he tries to roll-back Lina’s raging 15 year-old hormones with relation to the handsome and attentive Mikey (Parker Mack).

“Boys his age require discouragement. Makes them better men, in the long run.”

The rising threat from the game, the too-obvious black-spandex clad spooks Doris sees and the climax play according to formula. The finale is drawn-out anti-climactic And as I’ve mentioned, we’ve seen most of the effects in the trailers.

But director Mike Flanagan, who did the haunted mirror thriller “Oculus,” makes great use of deep-focus close-ups, playing up the scariness of the youngest child.

And Reaser, Thomas, Basso and especially the demonically playful Miss Wilson play the Mike Flanagan, Jeff Howard script like a fiddle. They make “Ouija” stand out among the generations of Ouija-board using horror pictures — the first might have been “The Uninvited,” in 1944 — a spooky thriller that, like its characters, only gets into trouble when it breaks the rules. 

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MPAA Rating: PG-13 for disturbing images, terror and thematic elements

Cast:Elizabeth Reaser, Annalise Basso, Henry Thomas, Lulu Wilson, Parker Mack

Credits:Directed by Mike Flanagan, script by Mike Flanagan, Jeff Howard. A Universal release.

Running time: 1:39

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