In theaters October 21st is Mike Flanagan’s Ouija: Origin of Evil, and to celebrate the occasion, Daily Dead recently caught up with the busy filmmaker who has been on the forefront of modern horror for the last several years with Absentia, Oculus, Hush, and now the newest installment in the Ouija series.

During our interview, Flanagan discussed stepping into the world of Ouija to help get the series back on track after a less than enthusiastic response to the original film, the pressure of coming onto a project that wasn’t 100% his vision, wanting to pay tribute to the horror films he grew up on, and some of the retro filmmaking approaches he utilized while in production on Ouija: Origin of Evil.

Great to speak with you today, Mike. You've had a really exceptional year so far, with Hush being a part of SXSW, and just seeing how well the horror community has embraced it since it was released. Now you're coming out with Ouija: Origin of Evil, which, I have to say, found some clever ways to embrace this mythology and really bring it into a very special and intriguing place for horror fans.

Mike Flanagan: Oh, thank you. Yeah, it's always really tough stepping into an established franchise, especially one that had some pretty strong opinions attached to it already, so I'm really glad to hear that.

Because you're used to working on your own stories with your own vision, was there a different kind of pressure for you coming into an already established universe, or did everybody just embrace what you brought to it and let you do your own thing?

Mike Flanagan: Blumhouse, Universal, and Platinum Dunes all from the very beginning were really careful about allowing me to make this my own as much as I could. There was definitely some pressure, but a lot of it was self-imposed, in that I was trying not to turn off the audience that didn't enjoy the first movie. But the framework that was laid out for us, that was fun, and the board itself was really intriguing. Once we knew that we were not going to be doing a direct sequel, and that we could pretty much open up the narrative in a number of ways, there were actually very few requirements story-wise that were connected to the first movie.

It was important for me to try to make it as much as my own as I could, and I felt very supported in that by the producers, which, I think if that had gone a different way, we wouldn't be having this conversation, so I'm really grateful to them.

You mentioned previously that there were certain things that you did to make this feel like the movies you grew up watching and loving, in terms of horror movies. I'd love to hear about what it was in particular about this project that you really wanted to bring that aesthetic to, because the results are very lovely.

Mike Flanagan: The Ouija board itself has such a long history and can fit into so many different time periods. The 1960s for me is an era that I've always been fascinated with, not only because it's when my parents were pretty much the age group that this movie is primarily targeted towards, but it also features some of the most dramatic cultural and technological shifts within America. I'm fascinated by NASA and the space race, and a lot of the cultural changes that were happening at the time, coming off of the perceived innocence of the 1950s, and really watching the country in a state of incredible turmoil, but also of amazing advancements in technology and in the arts, too. So it's always been an era that I find really interesting.

What I wanted to do more than anything—thinking about how these movies tend to be targeted primarily towards teenagers and younger viewers—was to remember the movies that made me fall in love with horror movies when I was that age, which for me were Poltergeist and The Changeling, in particular—those were the ones we talked about quite a bit when we were prepping this. There's this sense of PG-13 horror out there, that by its nature it is going to be less good and less sophisticated than its R-rated counterparts, and I don't think that that rings true.

One of the things that we talked about very early on with everyone was, don't 13-year-olds deserve well-crafted, character-forward horror thrillers as well? There was a type of movie that I remembered and a type of feeling I used to have when I was younger and first dipping my toe into genres as a viewer that I was really anxious to try and recreate, and that turned out to be one of the most rewarding aspects of this movie.

To go back and play with not only visual aesthetics that we get in production design and costume and props and things like that, which are all really, really fun, but to approach it that way with the tools that we were using to make the film as well. We were using antique lenses. I really wanted to dust off things like split diopters and long zooms and things that have fallen out of vogue in a modern genre, and get to really play with them. I didn't want it to be just a movie about people dressed up like they were in the 1960s.

The film is beautiful to look at, and I credit that to Michael Fimognari, my DP, who's worked on most of my movies with me. He and I immediately looked at it as a great opportunity to really go back into those feelings we had when we were kids watching movies, down to the old-school Universal logo, which sets the tone for the whole movie. It's the first thing we're going to see, and the studio was really willing to let us go in that direction. It ended up being aesthetically really fun for us, and it's not often that I get to have that much fun working on a movie, so it was pretty cool.

Yeah, the logo was such a nice touch. I would be absolutely remiss if we didn't talk about your cast in this, because Lulu [Wilson], Elizabeth [Reaser], and Annalise [Basso] are really fantastic in this movie, and you feel like you're watching a real family on screen. Can you talk about developing that rapport between them, and what it was that you saw in them that made you really feel like these three would make for an outstanding family in this story?

Mike Flanagan: We knew going in that we wanted to make a movie about a single mother and her daughters, and everything was going to hang on that. We found Lulu just in the mix of auditions that had been submitted for the movie, and one of her audition scenes was a monologue that she gives—that's in a lot of the marketing material—about what it feels like to be strangled. Instead of trying to make it scary, which is the obvious choice and what everybody was doing, she delivered it perfectly nonchalantly and sweetly with a smile, and it was awesome.

I hadn't really felt that way about seeing an audition from a child actor since I saw Jacob Tremblay's audition for Before I Wake, and it was like, "This girl is incredible." Annalise, I'd worked with on Oculus and had an amazing experience with her. I thought she was incredible when she was 13, so I wrote Paulina thinking about Annalise. When Elizabeth came in, she has this ability to take everything that she's feeling and to hang it all right in her eyes. She's one of the most open actors I've ever met that way.

The chemistry between the three of them was evident at the first table read. They're all so talented and they're all so generous of each other, that they felt like a familial unit right away. Since the film, too, what I've heard is that Annalise and Lulu have essentially become sisters. They have this bond in real life. We were just very fortunate that we found these amazing women of various ages to come together, and they really make the movie stand out.


In case you missed it, check out Heather's review of Ouija: Origin of Evil.

  • Heather Wixson
    About the Author - Heather Wixson

    Heather A. Wixson was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, until she followed her dreams and moved to Los Angeles in 2009. A 14-year veteran in the world of horror entertainment journalism, Wixson fell in love with genre films at a very early age, and has spent more than a decade as a writer and supporter of preserving the history of horror and science fiction cinema. Throughout her career, Wixson has contributed to several notable websites, including Fangoria, Dread Central, Terror Tube, and FEARnet, and she currently serves as the Managing Editor for Daily Dead, which has been her home since 2013. She's also written for both Fangoria Magazine & ReMind Magazine, and her latest book project, Monsters, Makeup & Effects: Volume One will be released on October 20, 2021.