The Ouija film franchise got off to a pretty rough start. When the project was first announced, there was widespread skepticism regarding the board and planchet’s big screen potential, and then when the movie finally came out, it was panned – nearly across the board. (No pun intended.) However, 2014’s Ouija still scored $103.6 million at the worldwide box office and that was enough for Blumhouse to move forward with a sequel. The folks behind the film have been very vocal about the need to improve and while those good intentions can be seen throughout the new Ouija film, it’s still not enough to overcome a predictable story and make it worthwhile watch.
Whereas the first Ouija movie takes place in present day, Ouija: Origin of Evil takes us back to 1965 where a widowed mother, Alice (Elizabeth Reaser), and her two daughters, Paulina (Annalise Basso) and Doris (Lulu Wilson) are busy running a seance scam, tricking paying costumers into believing they’re talking to dead loved ones. While that may sound like a heartless operation, Alice is desperate to support her children and also believes that they truly are helping people find closure – even if it’s an outright lie. In an effort to spice up their act, they add a new prop, a Ouija board. Soon after, what were once parlor tricks and theatrics become very real and dangerous because it isn’t just a game to young Doris. She’s actually making contact.
Origin of Evil is an improvement on the first film, in large part because it keeps the focus on family. Reaser continues to prove she should be a much more common household name while Basso solidifies herself as a star on the rise who’s well worth keeping an eye on. Add Wilson to the mix and you’ve got a very endearing, believable mother/daughter unit, which is key to keeping you engaged and invested for the large majority of the movie.
Henry Thomas’ character, however, is completely unnecessary and winds up doing a disservice to their story. He steps in as Father Tom. He’s the principal of the school that Doris and Paulina attend which is fine, but then the movie goes on to force a relationship between him and Alice, a minor subplot that has absolutely no business being in this film. He’s got zero chemistry with Reaser, his character doesn’t serve hers in any way, and Father Tom also doesn’t accomplish much when it comes to the Zander family’s battle against the spirits conjured by the Ouija board.
As for those spirits, they get a major upgrade this time around. Doug Jones’ name is on the roster so you can expect top notch, practical creature work. Wilson also joins the ranks of truly creepy possessed children thanks to Origin of Evil, but not because of that mildly effective digital mouth gag. She’s a stellar young actress and it shows big time during a scene when she delivers a lengthy, sinister speech that’s captured in a single shot, a moment that’s significantly more haunting than any jump scare the movie throws at you.
Origin of Evil is a success as far as being a movie about a mother and her two daughters being torn apart by a supernatural entity, but there’s really no reason the movie needs the title Ouija. Yes, the evil entity is conjured by the board, but it fails to tap into the nostalgia of “playing” with the board and could easily be replaced by just about anything – an incantation, a supposedly haunted object, etc. As presented in Origin of Evil, the board is just a means to an end, which makes it no different than any other predicable, supernatural horror movie. And the frustratingly convenient “twist” doesn’t help.
Ouija: Origin of Evil pales in comparison to some studio-scale horror we’ve seen this year, but for what it’s worth, it is an improvement on the 2014 Ouija movie. It’s predictable, a tad stale and leans heavily on familiar scare tactics, but Flanagan does manage to infuse enough authorial flare to keep you visually stimulated. He gives the film way more style than its predecessor, and the three leads successfully get you to connect with their characters. Is that enough to justify the existence of a horror franchise based on Ouija? Absolutely not, but Origin of Evil does mark a small step in a better direction for the franchise should it continue.