Ouija boards must be the most
controversial and feared item found in typical toy stores. It makes you wonder
why Hasbro still makes them. Maybe it is the hundreds of thousands of units
they sell each year with virtual no marketing expenditure, but we’re just
guessing here. They even licensed the brand for a horror film as part of their
studio development deal. Did the story end with 2014’s Ouija? Who knows, but we can hope. Instead, it is time to flashback
to when it all began in Mike Flanagan’s considerably superior prequel, Ouija: Origin of Evil (trailer here), a Blumhouse
production, which opens today nationwide.
It is 1965, eight years before The Exorcist scared the pants off
everyone and made Ouija boards synonymous sulfur-spewing Hell. When Alice
Zander decides to incorporate a board into her phony spiritualist act, it doesn’t
set off any alarm bells. She is a bit of a scam artist, but she really tries to
give her clients the sort of consolation and closure she herself lacks. It has
been a year or so since her husband Roger died in an accident, but her teenage
daughter Lina and ten-ish-year-old daughter Doris are not even close to being
over it. The Ouija board will not help.
It turns out there is an evil entity in
the house, which uses the board as a catalyst to possess little Doris. It will
take Mother Zander a while to accept the obvious, preferring to think the Ouija
board really has brought her into contact with her late husband. However, Lina
recognizes the weirdness of Doris’s Regan MacNeil behavior, which will be
confirmed by her kindly Catholic school teacher, Father Tom.
Ironically, Origin is far better than the original film, but it is unfairly restricted
by the previously established backstory. Flanagan is a considered an
up-and-coming genre director who definitely shows some chops here. Most
tellingly, the film carries a (mild
by genre standards) PG-13 rating, yet Flanagan still earns some legit scares. In
fact, the 1960s period look and vibe actually makes it feel more real and
grounded. Like Blatty’s The Exorcist,
Origin also wears its Catholic
perspective on its sleeve. Terms like evil and innocence have very real meaning
it this film.
To that end, Henry Thomas (yes, the kid
from E.T.) is terrific as Father Tom.
The scenes of his initial investigation represent some first class horror
movie-making. Yet, the third act inevitably collapses into a blur of bodies
flying through the air, just as we expected it would. Not to overstate matters,
but there is a tragic poignancy to Elizabeth Reaser’s portrayal of Alice
Zander. Lulu Wilson is also Bad Seed creepy
as the possessed, mucus-gurgling, eyes-rolling-into-the-back-of-her-head Doris.
Frankly, Annalise Basso mostly comes off as an obnoxious teen, but that is
pretty much what Lina Zander is. Hardcore fans will also get a kick out of
knowing Doug Jones is the one beneath the black ghoul’s make-up and special effects.
Production designer Patricio M. Farrell painstakingly
recreates the miserable not-so-swinging, polyester sixties and cinematographer Michael
Fimognari gives it all an eerie Conjuring-esque
glow. Given the origins of Origin, it
certainly exceeds expectations. Despite the baggage straining the third act, it is an expertly-executed exercise in
Catholic-influenced demonic horror. Worth a look for horror fans who can
appreciate a good set-up and forgive the lame ending, Ouija: Origin of Evil opens in wide release today (10/21),
including the AMC Empire in New York.
Labels: Blumhouse, Horror Movies, Mike Flanagan, Prequels