by Bob Grimm
Director: Mike Flanagan
Starring: Lulu Wilson, Elisabeth Reaser
How bad was 2014’s Ouija? It was so piss poor and forgettable that I had to actually look into my archives for a review to confirm I had actually seen the damn thing. I wasn’t sure.
As it turns out, I did see the movie, and I crushed it with my lowest rating, proclaiming the following: “The PG-13 outing consists of fake-outs and people behind doors, the kind of stuff you will see coming if you’ve seen, say, one horror movie in your lifetime. If that is in fact true, don’t make this your second one, for you will wind up massively disappointed.”
In short, Ouija was a deplorable shitshow.
Ouija: Origin of Evil is a bona fide movie miracle in many ways. Ouija was awful, but it was enough of a hit to warrant a sequel. Still, it shocked me to see the sequel had actually made it to movie screens rather than some direct-to-digital platform. The fact that Mike Flanagan, the director of the crappy Oculus, was at the helm did little to quash my skepticism.
After about 30 seconds of watching young Lulu Wilson as Doris Zander, I realized that Flanagan might to be onto something with this casting. This kid, with her authentic 1960s haircut and mature-for-her-years delivery, crafts one of the great horror film performances of all time. Yes, I’m bestowing that honor on a performance that occurs in a sequel to one of the worst horror films ever made.
The film, set convincingly in 1965, follows right along with Wilson as truly inspired and creepy. Is it one of the best horror films ever made? No. A few missteps in the final act take it down a notch. Is it one of the best horror sequels ever made? You bet it is.
Doris is the daughter of Alice (Elizabeth Reaser) and sister of Lina (Annalise Basso). Lina is the younger version of a character played by Lin Shaye in the original movie. The house in which they reside is the same house where the girl hung herself in Ouija. The whole thing, as the title implies, is an origin story.
We find out how a Ouija board winds up in the house, and more about the spirits corresponding through the board. After a couple of nice conversations with her dead dad, Doris winds up in conference with a rather nasty spirit, who possesses her and causes her face and eyes to do nightmarish things. Huge props to the special effects department for creating some of the best horrific contorting tricks since the girl from The Grudge did her wacky crawling all over that townhouse.
Flanagan captures lightning in a bottle with this ensemble, which also includes Henry Thomas taking the standard horror film priest role and making it something deeper and more complicated. Thomas hasn’t been this good since E.T. This is not a dig on him, because he’s always quite good. It’s just a way of saying he really hits this one out of the park.
As the anchor of the film, Basso is excellent as the young girl trying to fall in love with a boy while her sister goes bananas and her mother stumbles a tad with the parenting thing. Make sure to stay after the credits to see a scene that’s crucial in connecting the two Ouija films together.
Flanagan proves he can make a horror film that is scary, multi-dimensional, and effectively authentic. His ability to stage a convincing late ’60s setting shows he also has a visual talent that can take him beyond the horror genre. Most importantly, he’s quite the expert at delivering solid, core-punching scares.
The horror genre has been resurgent the last couple of years. That said, nobody in their right mind could’ve expected something this good here, considering the crap pedigree going in. Ouija: Origin of Evil, in a year littered with many predictable disappointments, is one of 2016’s great surprises.