So for no particular reason but that it popped up in my feed, I took another look at the review of OUIJA I wrote two years ago. I well remember that I considered it the worst horror film of 2014, but I'd forgotten that I'd taken a moment out to praise OCULUS as one of the best of 2014 in the context of that very review... you know, cursed objects, formula films and all that.
One of the very last things I wanted was any sort of sequel to OUIJA, but its box-office success dictated that we'd get more all the same. Fine. Doesn't mean I have to see it, right? Except instead of a sequel, it's a prequel. And dammit... it's from Mike Flanagan, the writer/director of OCULUS. So I guess I need to check it out after all.
Actually, I was hoping this would NOT be a prequel--that it would be a self-contained story that just HAPPENED to involve a Ouija board. That could have made things a lot better. No such luck--nevertheless, this is still far superior to its predecessor. And it's the only horror movie playing this Halloween weekend! Wow...
Okay, I'm not going to spend a lot of time here. You've seen the trailer, I presume. Some fifty years before the events of OUIJA, the broken Zander family (devastated by the untimely loss of the family patriarch) tries to make ends meet and stall of foreclosure with a phony seance racket. Mother Alice (Elizabeth Reaser) acts as the medium, while teenage Lina (Annalise Basso) and little sister Doris (Lulu Wilson) blow out candles and rattle doors and tables. That's all fine, but once the curious Lina experiences a Ouija session of her own during an illicit outing, she persuades Mom to pick one up as an additional prop. And that's when Doris makes contact with the spirit world... for real.
As before, the Ouija board itself is a name-brand device on which to hang a franchise. The spirits (might that be Dad?) are obviously already in the dwelling and they could certainly have found some way to take action on their own, but that's fine. At least Flanagan takes his time with his story and allows his characters time to register completely on the viewer (as opposed to setting a stick of dynamite off on the soundtrack every five minutes or so, as in the original). The young actresses are endearing without being precious or cloying--Basso, in particular, engenders plenty of sympathy and understanding; while Wilson proves quite adept at delivering extremely disturbing dialogue without ever losing the appearance of angelic innocence. Expect more from both. Reaser is also offered an intriguing arc as she debates her supposed mistreatment of the spiritual world with a widowed priest who also happens to be headmaster at her daughters' Catholic school (yep, that's Henry Thomas, all right) in what she secretly (?) hopes will turn into something more than dinner conversation.
If the film runs out of steam in the last half hour, it's really only because it's still a prequel and, as such, is married to a foregone conclusion. Oh, and also perhaps of one ill-advised bit in which a character makes a shock entrance dangling from a noose--prompting plenty of frantic talk but not ONE single attempt to, well, maybe, TRY to rescue him? No... the movie has a reason to keep him hanging there, and it isn't worth it.
Basically, OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL will work best for those who have NOT seen the original OUIJA. And if you listened to me two years ago, you DIDN'T see it, right? Keep it that way. This one's worthwhile.
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