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1 review, 4 user ratings

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Ouija: Origin of Evil
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by Jay Seaver

"A good pedigree can overcome a questionable one."
4 stars

Studios developing movies out of Hasbro's toy and game properties have come in for a fair amount of mockery, with "Ouija" basically dismissed enough that folks barely noticed it selling more than enough tickets to be counted as a success. Not the kind of success that has people clamoring for more, but where the studio figures they might as well do another. The surprising thing about this process is that someone got the idea of giving this movie based on a toy that lets one play at communicating with the dead to Mike Flanagan, who has done some pretty good work making horror stories along those lines, and turns in something that's actually pretty good.

Initially, that talking to the dead is being done by Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser), a recently-widowed fortune teller who does a decent cold reading but has her daughters Paulina (Annalise Basso) and Doris (Lulu Wilson) help out by hiding just or of sight and enhancing her seances with, shall we say, practical effects. As one might expect, Paulina is not terribly impressed when someone pulls out a Ouija board at a party, though she mentions it to her mother as something worth integrating into the performance. Unfortunately, the first time they use it, something starts getting weird with Doris, enough that Paulina is soon talking to her Catholic school's principal Father Hogan (Henry Thomas) about the strange things happening in her home.

Flanagan has spent much of his career building scary stories around loss and the yearning for loved ones no longer there - it's a central theme of Absentia, Oculus, and Before I Wake - and the loss of Alice's husband Roger hangs over the Zanders as they justify what they do as wanting to help others who are in pain. It turns out that Father Hogan is a widower himself, and the sparks between him and Alice are those of people who aren't really certain how to be alone in this way. It's material and atmosphere that he's grown skilled at cultivating, but it doesn't feel overly familiar: Flanagan and co-writer Jeff Howard make the early bits with the family of con artists fun, and then twist it in opposite ways simultaneously, to the point where later scenes can act as both confirmation and debunking of sorts at once.

That's the big picture; the filmmakers are also good at making the quick scares thrill. Where a lot of scary movies will make the viewer jump and then show how it was really nothing until it's time to really get down to business, this one will show how something can be faked and then follow that up with something that can't be explained rationally, giving the audience a good scream but not resetting, so they're a little more on edge for the next one. Creepy moments that seem to come out of nowhere always link into something else, and what could be throwaway hooks create a very real sense of a stranger, darker world existing underneath the imperfect but optimistic and brightly colored mid-1960s of the film.

The cast and their characters do an excellent job of selling this, too. Autumn Reaser is a sneaky delight as Alice, introduced as a sharp, pattering huckster who is soon revealed as a fiercely dedicated mother, with Flanagan giving Reaser room to show the audience how Alice's contradictory traits add up to a personality rather than having her explain herself. There's a fair amount of that to Annalise Basso's Lina too - she captures the confidence of a headstrong adolescent both when it's naive and when it makes her quicker-witted than the adults she's dealing with, and lose that when it's important to show that she's nervous and scared as well. Certain genre fans will likely see her as a teenaged Karen Gillan before being reminded that she actually played that part in Oculus. Lulu Wilson initially seems to have a bit of difficulty shifting between the sweet little girl and the one possessed by something evil, but once the movie has her all-in, she's able to carry a lot of the movie's scary moments. The guys aren't given as much to do, but Henry Thomas and Parker Mack are each a little better than they need to be.

For most of the film, they get pay out a story that gives no obvious sign of being connected to events that week occur fifty years later, at least for those of us who haven't seen the 2014 Ouija movie (those who have will probably recognize the house and some character names early on). It does take a couple jarring turns near the end as the filmmakers make those connections, but those moments are probably worth it for how the Flanagan and company are able to borrow the look, sounds, and relative simplicity of the period without much irony beyond a few affectation like fake reel changes.

I can't say that I got invested enough in the mythology of the series to check out the movie whose gaps this one fills in; it's surprisingly good on its own, but I'm much more interested to see the next thing Flanagan has on his plate than the next movie based on a this particular board game. That's a heck of a lot more than expected, and one might as well take a good ghost story where they come.

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originally posted: 11/08/16 15:06:22
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User Comments

1/26/20 danR If this is better than the first, I'm glad I didn't see the first. 2 stars
9/09/17 morris campbell ALOT better than the first one 3 stars
1/10/17 Langano Decent horror flick. 3 stars
11/10/16 Angel Baby Araiza Just as good as conjuring 4 stars
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  21-Oct-2016 (PG-13)
  DVD: 17-Jan-2017


  DVD: 17-Jan-2017

Directed by
  Mike Flanagan

Written by
  Mike Flanagan
  Jeff Howard

  Kate Siegel
  Henry Thomas
  Doug Jones
  Elizabeth Reaser
  Lin Shaye
  Annalise Basso

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