Ouija: Origin of Evil

I have never played with a Ouija board in my life and never will. What surprises me about the “Ouija” movie franchise, produced by Hasbro, is the grim message of its product. According to these horror movies, if you play the Ouija board game, you or someone you know will probably die. Thanks, but I’ll stick with Operation…or Candyland. An even bigger surprise is that the current prequel, “Ouija: Origin of Evil,” is a great horror film and vastly superior to its 2014 predecessor. Like “Insidious: Chapter 2” and this year’s “The Conjuring 2,” here is a gore-free, scare-heavy, tour de force of genre filmmaking.

“Twilight” franchise survivor Elizabeth Reaser stars as a the single mother of a teen daughter Lina (played by Annalise Basso) and Doris (played by Lulu Wilson). Its 1967 and Elizabeth’s business as a local medium has fallen on hard times. When Lina brings home a Ouija board, the three are stunned by how it helps their business…though little Doris can’t stop using it to talk to her dead father.

I expected little from “Ouija: Origin of Evil” and was stunned by the inventive filmmaking, excellent performances and four main characters who I genuinely cared about. ┬áThe original had some effective jolts but was unexceptional, juvenile trash. I enjoyed seeing it in a crowded theater on opening night, as the screams in the audience were livelier than anything on the screen. The sequel, on the other hand, had a grown male shouting “Holy S—!” more than once (and no, that wasn’t me. Like the professional film critic I am, I cowered in silence).

How scary is this movie? A way to make oneself immune to these movies while watching them is covering your ears, That way, you can mute the loud soundtrack accompanying cheap jump scares. The thing is, the scares here are jumbo sized and purely visual. You’d have to cover both your ears and eyes… or just avoid the theater altogether to shield yourself from some truly petrifying imagery. If you hate scary movies, don’t come anywhere near this one. For everyone else, this is one of the best written, acted and produced horror films of the year, if not the decade. Mainstream, PG-13 horror movies, remakes and sequels don’t typically get much love from hardcore fans and for good reason- most of them are stupid. Not this one.

Initially, it treats the supernatural with total skepticism, builds slowly to the spooky stuff and takes its time before unleashing some petrifying imagery. I found the conclusion to be shocking. The final moment before the credits role is one for the books, likely to appear on those Scariest Movie Moments of All Time lists.

Look, I see dozens of horror movies every year but this one left me shaking. More importantly, it made me care about its well developed characters and pulled me in with its intriguing story.

The least effective moments are the ones where you clearly see the monster, though the lack of CGI overkill is refreshing. Less so is the use of a Nazi criminal as a subplot, which is tired and in fairly poor taste. Horror fans looking for sensational elements won’t be disappointed but the plot’s center, of a family dealing with loss and suddenly believing in life after death, has real dramatic pull.

The secret weapon here is co-writer and director Mike Flanagan, whose 2014 “Oculus” is similarly exceptional and uniquely scary. His next movie looks to be another whopper: he’s currently directing an adaptation of Stephen King’s lurid and frightening “Gerald’s Game” (one of King’s most horrifying). Flanagan is early into his career but, if he keeps this up, we may have another John Carpenter on our hands.

Three and a Half Stars

originally published in Maui Time Weekly