Throughout his career, filmmaker Mike Flanagan has proven himself to have an immense amount of skills both behind the camera and as a talented screenwriter who has always remained focused on giving genre fans interesting and well-conceived characters to follow. For his latest film, Ouija: Origin of Evil, Flanagan goes back to his own horror-loving roots for an old-school prequel that is not only a lot of fun to watch, but also easily surpasses its predecessor in almost every possible way.
In fact, this is how much I enjoyed Ouija: Origin of Evil: I had skipped seeing the first Ouija when it was out in theaters in 2014, but because of what Mike Flanagan (and his talented cast and crew) managed to create here, it made the prospect of seeing the original intriguing enough for me to sit down and watch it. Yeah, it wasn’t great, but Origin of Evil was so enjoyable, I was immediately compelled to go back just so I could connect a few cinematic dots between the two films.
Ouija: Origin of Evil transports audiences back to the year 1967, as we follow a struggling single mother named Alice (Elizabeth Reaser), who scams unsuspecting folks out of their money via the psychic business she runs out of her home with the assistance of her daughters Paulina (Annalise Basso) and Doris (Lulu Wilson). Alice decides her act needs some spicing up, so she brings home a Ouija board to add some supernatural flavor. Alice and her girls unknowingly make contact with a malevolent spirit who settles into their abode, tormenting them as it tries to overtake young Doris’ soul. The family must pull together to figure out how to stop the evil inside their house before it’s too late for all of them.
First of all, beyond just being able to create an incredibly intelligent and character-driven prequel with Origin of Evil, Flanagan does an amazingly thorough job of making a movie that feels like it was plucked right out of the era it is set in. From the classic opening Universal logo to the reel burns throughout (signaling the projectionist that it is time to change reels), to the gorgeous and timeless cinematography from DP Michael Fimognari, there’s an apparent love that Flanagan poured into every single frame that gives the whole project a wonderful sense of authenticity.
At the center of Origin of Evil is Alice and her daughters, and the trio of actresses that Flanagan brought together for the sequel could not have been better. Reaser is great as the slightly spunky but tough-as-nails matriarch of the family, who is trying her best to keep a roof over her daughters’ heads and make a living any way that she can. There’s a weariness to Reaser’s performance as a woman still heartbroken over losing her husband, but driven by the need to be strong for her girls, and she’s incredibly likable here.
Basso is also quite lovely as Paulina, the slightly rebellious teenager who is sometimes torn between her own desire for independence and her overwhelming concern for her younger sis. As Doris, Wilson is an absolute beast. This kid gives a brilliant breakout performance in Ouija: Origin of Evil that is so good, it will undoubtedly have horror fans talking about it for years to come. I’m an immediate fan of Wilson’s after seeing this. Henry Thomas is also a key supporting player in Origin of Evil, and considering that he’s playing a priest in a supernatural movie, I very much enjoyed that his character subverted all my expectations. Great stuff.
A sequel far better than anyone probably could have expected after seeing the first installment, Ouija: Origin of Evil is a real treat for horror lovers, and it's one of Flanagan’s most well-crafted efforts to date. It reminds me of movies I discovered at the video store as a kid, and while it's not traditionally “scary” (I mean, what is scary anymore, really?), Flanagan provides viewers with some clever thrills and chills, an intriguing supernaturally-infused mystery, and great characters to boot. It’s truly a shame we don’t have more new horror movies this October, but Origin of Evil is a worthy effort to help carry us through our favorite season.
Movie Score: 4/5