What I'm Watching: Ouija - Origin of Evil
As some might remember, I was one of the bigger champions of the first Ouija movie. Which isn't hard to do, since it got generally panned by everyone, EXCEPT for me. I admit, it wasn't a great movie, but it was a perfectly fine bit of popcorn entertainment. It was fun. But I digress, you can go read that review if you want, this is about the sequel.
Which surprisingly was something that I was hesitant about. The trailers didn't do anything for me, it was a period piece...I just wasn't drawn in. Save for one little thing; Mike Flanagan was directing. Flanagan did Oculus, which was one of my favourite movies that year, so sure. Maybe he can pull this off. I'll check it out, but no hurry.
However, it finally came out, I watched the movie, so let's see what I think of Ouija: Secret of the Ooj!
The story is about what happened before the first movie duh, fleshing out events which are only hinted at as the characters are investigating the strange happenings around the Ouija board.
And Origin of Evil does what the title says, and what a prequel should do. It tells the events from before the original in an interesting way, and to fill out the backstories. As always, that's something that can be dicey, since you know the outcome, but a skilled creative team and solid acting can make it worth watching.
Which is exactly what this movie manages to do. One of the things I've noticed with Flanagan's films, is that he is very skilled at crafting characters that are believable and grounded, making the eventual horror all the more horrific. Where someone like Craven or Carpenter are skilled at crafting worlds that reflect a normal, everyday suburbia, Flanagan is skilled at populating those worlds.
You care about these people not just because you're watching them, but because they feel like REAL PEOPLE and not just tropes or character beats for the kills to come. They're not cannon fodder, they're characters, and most importantly, they're intelligent and think things through.
But the writing and directing is only half the battle, the other half is casting the right people. And again, they knock it out of the park. Annalise Basso plays Lina, the main character we follow, and she is so charming, and smart, and funny, and genuine. She even manages to feel like a younger version of Lin Shaye's character in the original, especially towards the end. I can feel that connective tissue between the two versions of the character.
Her younger sister Doris, played by Lulu Wilson is...amazing. I can't find the words to describe what a talent this nine year old girl is. She can play innocent, but when they need her to be creepy, oh holy crap. She has a number of lines that are utterly terrifying, but she delivers them with such calm and joy that she raises that bar even higher. I'm not one for kid actors, but credit where it is due here.
Another treat was the role of a priest, played by Henry Thomas whom I do not believe I've seen in anything since he was Elliot in E.T. I know he's done stuff, but I'll be damned if I've seen any of it. And like the rest, he too was great. He brings so much warmth and gentleness to the priest, he cares about these kids, and does his best to help them and the family, while also being flawed in so very natural, human ways.
In fact, I notice I reused a word a lot there; warm. Every single character is warm, and friendly, and nice. You like all these people. There's not a single person amongst the main cast that is your typical jerk that you WANT to die. You are given a horror movie with Origin of Evil where every person is genuine and nice, and you do not want these terrible things to happen.
The story revolves around a medium and her two children, who the movie does not hide from us is a total fraud with her cold readings and seances. She does the usual 'we do it to help people so that makes it okay!' lines. I really love that they start us out with knowing they're frauds, and use a lot of the language and actual techniques to sell their 'powers' to the rubes. It's refreshing to pull back that curtain a bit, and it sets them up for a great fall when they find ACTUAL spirits, who use a lot of the same confidence techniques on them. And pulling back to tell these people who should know better exactly what's been going on is one of the strongest moments of the movie.
Origin of Evil does an excellent job of connecting the threads from this movie and the next. It sets things up, and every time there's a nod to the first movie, I let out a bit of a gasp and a big grin, because it never seemed forced, fitting perfectly into the story being told. There's a particular death that deliberately echoed the first movie that gave me so much joy because it was shot almost exactly the same. There are a lot of great moments of deja vu like that, that do not detract by shouting THIS IS A REFERENCE, because they fit perfectly here, if you have not seen the first movie. And on the subject of references, director Flanagan does sneak in a certain object from one of his other movies that has become my favourite little in joke in awhile.
My biggest problem is some of the actual horror. On the one hand, the movie very smartly uses the spirits sparingly. A shadow peeking around the doorway. A flicker at the edge of your vision. Someone lurking in a doorway out of focus and...wait, it's gone, was it there to begin with? Those are great scares, and never run into blatant jump scare territory. They're creepy and gasp inducing, and perfectly used. There are a few jump scares, but they're used sparingly, and always backed up by just being a solid fright.
But then, they show you the monster full on for a few seconds, and probably a few too many. Because Doug Jones may look great in the monster suit, and while it is super freaky and creepy, the more they show, the more it doesn't feel right and out of place. And I am so tired of the giant gaping maw look on horror creatures and people. I can do without that for a good long while. However, for the most part, the horror is well paced, and the moments like that which nudge towards silly or camp are few and far between because the horror is otherwise used sparingly and smartly, that it's not a huge problem.
Which segues nicely into the pacing of the movie. Origin of Evil may be one of the best paced movies I've seen in a long while. I never felt bored, and while the horror moments aren't all over the place, there is this ongoing sense of dread that is perfectly sold in the writing and acting. There are a number of deleted scenes on the DVD that have even more seance sessions showing things getting more and more powerful through the board, but they add nothing to the plot, and would have slowed things down with repetition of Yet Another Seance. The movie wisely removed those scenes, and told what needed to be told with what we got.
When the horror isn't the centre point of the story, we focus on the characters, which I've already lauded as being great. Origin of Evil is such a wonderfully paced movie giving you just enough character and horror mixed together, all building towards a solid climax that leaves you fulfilled and satisfied, even if its not exactly a happy ending.
And even beyond all that is just the aesthetic of the film, starting with the classic old Universal logo, a very dated 60s-ish title card, and the 60s trappings of the entire film. The style and fashion and decor was just all spot on. Keener eyes can surely nitpick, but it works for me as is, and sold the feeling and aesthetic they wanted. Also, some ways, a period piece makes the horror more believable, because people were less critical and things like mediums were far more common back in the day.
Flanagan has yet to disappoint me, and every film of his I see is just better and better. He is easily one of the best horror directors working today, and Ouija: Origin of Evil is surprisingly a must see, even if you hated or straight up did not see the original, as it holds up on its own perfectly fine.