It started in 1996 with Scream that Hollywood found audiences really wanted to make fun of the standard horror movie tropes. Scream, the Scary Movie series, Cabin in the Woods, Dale and Tucker vs Evil, the list can go on and on of films that look at the gullibility, poor decision making, jump scares, and so on that made up so many horror films and were turning the genre into a literal joke. 2016 has brought us The Witch, Lights Out, Don’t Breathe, and now Ouija: Origin of Evil to show us that those in Hollywood have learned a lesson and are bringing us stories with similar plots but that don’t rely on stupid tricks to scare us, they rely on psychology, paranoia, the supernatural… things that really are scary.
Ouija: The Origin of Evil takes place in the mid 1960’s and focuses on the Zander family. Some unmentioned time ago, the father in the Zander family died, and now the three women of the Zander family – mother Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) and the two daughters Lina (Annalise Basso) and Doris (Lulu Wilson) – make their living by giving seances. It’s all fake, but Alice rationalizes that they are helping bring a sense of closure to their clients. When older daughter Lina finds out about this new game called the Ouija Board at a friend’s house, she recommends her mother add one into her act. Everything is sunshine and puppy dogs after that.
Ouija 2 was brought to us by writer/director Mike Flanagan (and co-writer Jeff Howard), who has been primarily a television director until recently. In 2013 he brought us Oculus which was an underrated horror film in its own right, but more prominently he brought us Hush the straight to Netflix movie which has garnered quite a lot of critical and audience praise this year. Flanagan has shown he has a knack for giving us strong and smart female characters who do their best in horrific situations and this is no exception. All three of the women in this story are intelligent, well rounded characters. They all share a certain skepticism of the supernatural due their involvement in Alice’s profession, but all three show they are very much individuals when the strange events start occurring. Flanagan and Howard show a real proclivity for character in their writing, showing that we are watching a family, with many similar learned traits but each one also an individual with their own, usually well thought out, way of doing things.
In addition to the excellent character work in the writing, Ouija 2 also has a ton of style. The ’60’s setting is played up for all its worth, not just in areas like art direction and costuming, but even in cinematography which often uses techniques popular in horror films from the ’60s and ’70s (but, like everything else here, with a modern twist) and even goes so far as to add the marks in the upper right corner of the screen to let the projectionist know when to change the reels, even though there are no reels to be changed since everything is digital. The film is also very aware of what the general public will be expecting from it making the occasional self aware reference as a sort of wink, but never to the point where it is distracting or cutesy, just enough for Flanagan to sort of look directly at the audience for a split second and say to them, “You though this was going to be bad, corny fun, didn’t you?”
Ouija: The Origin of Evil does have a few flaws. It occasionally does break its tone in rather jarring fashion, particularly during the film’s handful of CGI sequences, and when you stop to think about it, it’s never really apparent at all why the Ouija board itself is necessary for the plot (though, this is perhaps a smart decision on Flanagan’s part, the board is there to get Hasbro sponsorship but never devolves into a pure marketing film). But, overall the gripes to be had here are minor ones.
Who would have thought that a sequel to one of the worst movies of 2014 could continue the pleasantly surprising recent trend of intelligent horror films with an agenda of breaking through the stereotypes the genre has unfortunately brought upon itself? Ouija: The Origin of Evil is a well acted, wonderfully written, stylistic film that will absolutely scare the living crap out of you and will most likely haunt your dreams for at least a few nights afterward. Happy Halloween!
Rating: 7.6 out of 10