Ouija: Origin of Evil Review
Small children and Ouija boards are two things that should never be mixed together
The Zander family makes their living dealing in make believe but when things start happening for real the family are forced to accept that perhaps there is something on the other side.Madame Zander promises to answer all those questions you have for your dearly departed. However, what she doesn’t mention is that it’s all a scam. Operating from the family home Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) performs séances for paying clients which on the surface appear to be completely genuine and legitimate but helping her orchestrate this elaborate scheme are her two daughters Lina (Annalise Basso) and Dorris (Lulu Wilson). After the death of her husband, Alice finds herself the sole breadwinner.So along with the séances, Alice begins to use fortune telling as a means for her family to get by and justifies it as a service providing closure to other grieving families. It’s only when Alice incorporates a Ouija board into her act that little Dorris realises that she can actually communicate with spirits. Before long Alice starts using Dorris to perform real psychic readings for clients unaware of the dark force that is slowly taking over her daughter and her home.
Ouija: The Origin Of Evil is set up as the prequel to Ouija released back in 2014. Set in 1967 Los Angeles the film has a distinctive tone to it, successfully utilising costume, decor and music to really set the scene. The title screen and use of ‘cigarette burns’ (which identified reel changes when films were actually projected on film) are a lovely touch to the film's nostalgic quality which could only have been heightened through the use of shooting on actual film. Directing is Mike Flanagan who also co-wrote the film with Jeff Howard; the two of them previously worked on the supernatural horror Oculus which also starred Annalise Basso. The whole premise of this film is fantastic, blending together elements of older films such as The Exorcist and Poltergeist and The Amityville Horror. There is some great camera work, specifically the use of deep focus enabling the viewer to see both action and reaction during some of the slightly creepier scenes.
Unfortunately, rather than slowly and subtly building the tension Flanagan and his team have decided to go down the disappointing route of predictable jump scares, which any fan of the horror genre will be able to count down to. The whole concept of this film is, in my opinion, a great one which could have been delivered much more powerfully using the ‘less is more’ philosophy. The use of CGI within the film felt out of place and despite being reasonably well done, gave the game away much too soon. There is some backstory to the film which is delivered through Father Thomas’s character (Henry Thomas - you might remember him as Elliott in ET), the principle of the Catholic school the two girls attend. But even this, despite being pretty grim, feels a bit tagged on in an effort to explain things for the sake of explaining, making it all a bit fussy. With a running time of 99 minutes there is a lot a going on, much of which could have been jettisoned in order to really enforce the main story arc at the heart of the film.
Predictable jump scares and a fussy script ruin what could have been a truly good horror film
The real success of this film are the two young actresses playing the sisters Lina and Dorris. Wilson plays the role of Dorris and does so with the kind of natural quality you would expect from someone with years of experience. She manages to easily manoeuvre between a sweet naiveté and an eerie seriousness which is only enhanced by her innocence. Eager to use the Ouija board to contact her deceased father, Dorris is unaware of the doors she opens using the board game and believes she has made new friends in place of the one’s she hasn’t made at school. Equally as good is Basso, who proved she could act in Oculus, as the voice of maturity and reason. In Ouija: The Origin Of Evil Lina wants to enjoy her adolescence and the joys of young love but is forced to be her mother’s right hand, not only in their business venture but in surviving the dark force that has made it’s way into their home. Basso has an air of maturity and determination about her which she embraces resulting in a solid, strong performance.
Ouija: The Origin Of Evil plays with the tried a tested formula of children + the supernatural = a force to reckoned with. It has so many good qualities which had all the potential to be a Halloween hit but somehow it didn’t quite manage to pull it off. While there are a number of scares which will undoubtedly make some people jump, much of it is predictable. If you took all the elements separately and put them back together with a bit more focus on building the tension and less on stating the obvious you’d have a great film. As it goes, it’s a decent enough film for a quick scare with some good acting, but ultimately there is a lot going on which could have been refined and probably would have made for a better end result.
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