I saw Ouija a year ago. I remember very little about it other than thinking it was better than the reviews indicated, only in that it wasn’t the worst thing I’d ever seen. It was adequate, maybe low expectations helped I don’t know. I had no faith in another one, especially when it was announced as a prequel. It felt obligatory as the first movie had made a ton of money on a miniscule budget and even though nobody liked it, that meant it got a sequel. I was actively bummed that another Ouija movie was the only option we were getting this Halloween…outside of Boo! A Madea Halloween I suppose.
Then the tides started to turn. Mike Flanagan, the director of one of favourite horror movies from the last few years, Oculus (and Hush from earlier in this marathon) was tapped to helm the movie. Then a trailer dropped and it was actually pretty good. Then critics started seeing it (at an advanced screening, something many horror movies are not willing to provide) and praising it. Holy shit. Could it be? That the Ouija prequel was actually worth seeing? It turns out not only is this an improvement over the original, it is one of the better examples of a sequel improving on the original, especially in horror, that I can think of for a good long while.
Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) and her two daughters, Lina (Annalise Basso) and Doris (Lulu Wilson) run séance sessions of their home that are rigged up with magnets and other devices to give their guests the impression they are speaking to the spirits of their loved ones. They don’t do it maliciously. Yes it helps them pay the bills (although not really because all of those are past due and they are in danger of losing their home) but Alice does legitimately view it as helping people find closure. Eventually she picks up the hottest new toy, a Ouija board, to help them out with the whole act. Of course this being a horror movie and that being a Ouija board, shit goes real bad and Doris finds herself possessed by this asshole ghost who looks like a big smokey oil cloud thing.
Ouija: Origin of Evil does exactly what you would a prequel to do. It shows you the events leading up to the following film, and in this case does a very impressive job of tying everything together, while also providing a movie that people not familiar with other films of the series can enjoy. If you did see the original Ouija, and honestly now that this one exists there really is no point in ever seeing it, you know exactly where this one is going. It speaks a lot to the quality of this movie that knowing the destination does nothing to hinder the journey.
First off, a lot of time and attention is given to fleshing out these characters and creating an audience attachment to them. You know that feeling you get when you’ve seen a movie/show before and when something bad is about to happen, perhaps to a character that you like, you think “well maybe somehow this time everything will turn out fine” even though you know that’s impossible? That’s the feeling I had during this movie. I remembered enough about the first one to know where this one was headed and it ratcheted up the fear for me because I like these people damn it! These are good people! Leave them alone gross oil asshole demon ghost! These characters help to make up for a fairly by the numbers plot, with a lot of the possession tropes you’ve seen in other movies, including just yesterday in The Taking. It helps that the three leads are all fantastic in their roles, particularly Lulu Wilson as Doris. She is able to switch seamlessly between adorable 9-year-old and “holy shit burn it with fire” 9-year-old. It’s one of those creepy child performances that is so good, I would honestly be a little worried if I were her parents.
The movie also looks fantastic. It’s actually a period piece, taking place in the 1960’s and does a great job capturing the feel of the time. There’s also a lot of fun touches like including the classic Universal logo and a title card that feels straight out of a movie from that era. The costumes, the locations, the décor, it all captures the time period perfectly without overdoing it.
Then there’s the actual horror aspects. Jesus, there is some terrifying stuff in this movie. There are a handful of very effective jump scares, but Ouija gets just as much mileage out of chilling imagery. Hell for me the most unsettling moment was some faces being made behind the back of a character at one point. As someone who has a huge fear of things moving unnaturally, this movie was a non-stop nightmare for me as you got people running on the ceilings and moving all jerky and just no. No!
Ouija: Origin of Evil is better than it has any right to be. The amount of effort that clearly went into making the Ouija prequel this good is hugely admirable and provides an insanely tough act to follow for the inevitable third entry in the series. The plot isn’t too original, but the scares are effective, the look is great and the performances are impressive across the board. It really is the perfect movie to go check out this Halloween weekend.