Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)
★★ / ★★★★
Despite improving upon the original, “”Ouija: Origin of Evil” is a disappointment given that Mike Flanagan, the director and co-writer, knows how to construct and execute effective horror and thriller pictures (“Absentia,” “Hush,” “Oculus”) without relying on standard third act tropes that plague inferior works far too often. The film commands an intriguing exposition and rising action, but all the effort and energy lead up to a finale so unnecessarily flashy that one could not be blamed for considering that perhaps it is simply following the lead of James Wan’s “The Conjuring” rather than striving to become an example.
Genuine scares are present and a few are effective. So many movies involving characters playing a Ouija board come across as silly, slow, even detached at times because of the editing; they often take the time to show the fingers on the planchette moving from one letter to another as if we couldn’t understand how the game worked the first time. Here, the difference is noticeable. Cuts are generously employed—not only is the pacing faster, the message is quickly spelled out, and so when shocks are delivered, we tend to get caught off-guard because we are still absorbing or reeling in from the given messages, weighing what they could mean. Editing controls the timing; timing delivers the type of scare.
It takes the time to get the audience to relate to the family living in the haunted house. Alice (Elizabeth Reaser) is a single mother who must raise her daughters (Annalise Basso, Lulu Wilson) on her own after her husband’s death. Bills are piling up, and Alice’s parlor tricks of telling fortunes and contacting the other side are not enough to make a living on. It is very likely that they could lose the house. It is important that we understand their financial situation since they choose to stay in the house despite the discovery of active spirits within.
Humor is involved from time to time. For instance, there is an amusing scene where the mother reads the palm of a boy who is romantically interested in her elder daughter. Moments such as this not only function as a reprieve from the escalating tension but also a way to highlight the humanity of the characters. We must believe that those on screen being terrorized are actual people who might respond the way we do given a set of circumstances and so we relate with them all the more.
Less interesting are instances in which visual effects are employed—a possessed person walking on the ceiling, cloudy eyes, bodily contortions. Since the images are obviously made using or with an aide of a computer, we are taken out of the reality that the filmmakers worked so hard to establish. This approach is too commonly used during the final act to the point where the images are no longer scary, just gratuitous and unnecessary, an exercise of what they can do to wring out cheap jump scares.
“Ouija: Origin of Evil” works when it presents creepy details like a little girl being able to write in Polish even though she has no command of the language whatsoever. Even the history of a person who used to live in that house is fascinating. After all, at some point we’ve all wondered about the former people, once living, who used to reside in our homes. (Well, I have.) I wished Flanagan had picked his brain some more and had come up with a more inspired approach to end this story in a way that matches the identity of the kind of horror film he set out to make.