John’s Horror Corner: Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016), so much more than “Ouija 2,” Flanagan delivers a more mainstream horror movie LOADED with excellent scares, writing, acting and a creepy possessed child!
MY CALL: We have horror films and horror movies. Make no mistake, this is a horror movie. But it’s a horror movie crafted by a true horrorsmith and solid writer, acted on point by an excellent cast with a sensible story, and depicting a truly creepy child possession. Very scary, very fun. Enjoy! MORE MOVIES LIKE Ouija: Origin of Evil: Well, Witchboard (1986) also happens to involve a Ouija board-catalyzed possession. But in ceoncept I’d instead suggest the deep slowburn White Noise (2005) or, in style, Insidious (2010).
Written and directed by acclaimed horrorsmith Mike Flanagan (Absentia, Oculus, Hush), Origin of Evil seems to be an effort by a stylish director to make a more mainstream horror film. This may lack the full Flanagan treatment of nuance and style we’ve seen from him before, but I couldn’t be happier to see this anyway. His past films have been dark, intense, jarring and cerebral. Origin of Evil has just enough of these elements to elevate the film above most of the slapped-together-plot horror releases that plague theaters, but not so much Flanaganism as to divide fans and critics with too many questions (as was observed with Oculus).
Ouija: Origin of Evil only seems to be given the subtitle to avoid direct association with Oujia (2014), a dastardly menace of a film that snuck past the direct-to-DVD Gods and somehow poisoned theaters with its inane stupidity. This was originally titled Ouija 2—thank God, good taste prevailed. So much more than “Ouija 2,” Flanagan delivers a more mainstream horror movie LOADED with excellent scares, writing and acting! But it is connected in that the mouth-stitched ghost of Doris we met in Ouija (2014) now has her full story told in this prequel.
Providing an emotionally comforting service to her bereft and grieving clientele, Alice (Elizabeth Reaser; The Twilight Saga, Stay) and her two girls—the younger Doris (Lulu Wilson; Annabelle 2, Deliver Us from Evil) and high schooler Lina (Annalise Basso; Oculus, Dark House)—run a scam séance and fortune telling business out of their house in the 1960s. It’s all an act, but when handled appropriately, it helps people who never got to say their goodbyes or apologies to move on. But everything changes when Alice brings home a Ouija board as a new professional prop and Doris finds a special connection within it.
Believing that they have made contact with the benevolent spirit of her deceased husband, Alice and Doris end up opening the flood gates to a hostile apparition and, much as with Insidious’ (2010) Lipstick Demon, this spirit is one that had never been among the living; a demon.
From the initial contact with the other side, we all know something is very wrong. But it doesn’t make it any less creepy. In fact, it is the process of Doris embracing the established contact that terrifyingly reveals the true nature of things and some of the brief “corner-of-your-eye” imagery will smite any sense of comfort you once had. From there the physical manifestations are quite disarmingly uncomfortable (in a good way, of course).
I love that we get to know and really care about these characters. Flanagan and his cast makes it seem so effortless as both the acting and writing were splendid—especially our child actor Lulu Wilson as the transitioning innocent-to-Satanic Doris. WOW! The Catholic school principal Father Tom (Henry Thomas; Don’t Look Up, Dead Birds, Fire in the Sky, ET) is an excellent supporting character in identifying when things are amiss, and when they are malevolent. And watch out for the brief creature-acting of Doug Jones (Crimson Peak, John Dies at the End, Legion) as, well, you’ll see. It’ll be obvious.
In a scene introducing us to the 1960s view of the “game” Ouija, we have a creepy and utterly hilarious experience watching one of Lina’s classmates react to the notion of contacting the dead. It’s a real treat and it transcends the typically laughable jump scare of a “surprise cat” or loud junk unexpectedly falling out of the closet. This may have been one of my favorite scenes. But really, I had many favorite scenes, particularly in the first 60 minutes. They packed a LOT of creepy in this and I don’t even want to mention most of it.
So where did Flanagan go more mainstream? There were some components that felt stereotypical to the genre almost because they were easy, and these scenes were biased to the third act of the film.
For example, the rules of Ouija suggest that you never play alone, and never play near a graveyard. Why no “graveyard play?” Did the makers of the game know too many spirits in one place was a bad thing, or was this just an example of the movie being ironic when the evil spirits’ origins are revealed? And not play alone? Because it’s creepier? These things were all in good fun. But they weren’t so necessary and the graveyard reveal harkens back strongly to Poltergeist (1982).
Then the demon seemed a bit too much in the style of the Insidious’ (2010) lipstick demon, more in presentation than actual appearance. I think the fault here is in showing us what this demon looked like at all. It wasn’t necessary, all be it fun and quite shocking to watch! And with the spiritual abduction came The Last Exorcism (2010) back bend—not that it was the first film to feature such a possessed bodily distortion.
While effectively scary, was the stitched mouth gag meant to be a direct callback to Ouija (2014), which did the very same thing? And the effects were a lot like Neo’s sealed mouth in The Matrix (1999)? Don’t get me wrong, though, sealed and stitched mouths are creepy AF!
Then the often utilized “they” (or group of impostor spirits pretending to be your friendly spirit) of the other side manipulating the vulnerable or desperate among the living (e.g., Poltergeist, Insidious, White Noise).
The ending gets a bit bonkers with Exorcist (1973) wall-crawling, whited out eyes, evil grimaces and slack-jawed evil. I guess this is also Flanagan going for a more mainstream approach. Not that this imagery didn’t work…it was terrifying! LOL.
Doris, while being manipulated by evil, gains quite a bit of power. She lures victims into insecurity and menace in different and satisfying ways, and the special effects behind her evil manifestations may readily disrupt your sleep. But while this movie packs a lot of excitement and dread, it complements it with a great deal of sound storyline and practical plot development. Kudos for that! The writing in Origin of Evil reduces the Ouija (2014) script to something written with those fat Crayola markers on construction paper by someone with cerebral palsy.
I’m not calling this a great horror “film.” This is not a Flanagan caliber film in the sense of his last three conquests. However, this is one of the better “mainstream style” horror movies of the year along with Lights Out (2016). No one will be talking about their critical acclaim, but people will absolutely be buying these and enjoying them as fun, re-watchable popcorn horror. And I’m one of those happy customers! I hope you will be, too. So please watch, leave your “film critic” hat at home, and enjoy.