Why is Ouija, a board game originally made by Parker Brothers (and currently owned by Hasbro) one of the scariest yet lamest things on the planet? The game company didn’t invent the “spirit board;” a device for supposedly communicating with the spirit world. It’s been seen in various scary films like “The Exorcist” and “Paranormal Activity.” The game even had its own film: 1986’s “Witchboard.” The creepy toy has been a staple of sleepovers and other youthful gatherings. Most kids have seen or used one at some point, mostly to scare younger siblings to death. It's latest cinematic outing, “Ouija: Origin of Evil” is probably the most successful spooky film to revolve around the Ouija board. The less said about its predecessor “Ouija” from 2014 the better. “Origin of Evil” is a creepy and delightful nostalgic romp directed by Mike Flanagan who certainly knows how to make inanimate objects scary: he previously made the surprisingly good killer mirror thriller “Oculus.”
“Ouija: Origin of Evil” takes a cue from other successful studio horror films like “The Conjuring” and takes place in the past. Set in the late 1960s, the film follows a working class, widowed mother Alice (Elizabeth Reaser) who works out of her home as a fortune teller/scam artist. She doesn’t think she’s doing anything particularly “wrong;” she gives her clients – as vulnerable or delusional as they may be – a sense of closure when it comes to communicating with lost loved ones. Even if she’s basically conning these people you never get the sense that Alice is a bad person – she’s just trying to make a living while raising her two daughters. Alice introduces a Ouija board into her routine and after a surprisingly slow build accidentally unleashes an evil upon her household and more specially onto her younger daughter Doris (Lulu Wilson). Her older, teenage daughter Lina (Annalise Basso) is very skeptical of her mother’s work and suspects something is affecting Doris.
There are plenty of spooky things that go on here, many of which aren’t particularly new or refreshing but Flanagan at least stages them pretty well. It’s all about the period details (including the retro cue marks that appear in the upper right corner of the screen throughout the film) and the director spends time establishing character and story before hitting you over the head with lame jump scares. The film sort of falters in the last act as the story (Flanagan co-wrote with Jeff Howard) becomes somewhat hokey but the film is generally pretty strong considering this is a prequel to a completely terrible film.
Overall, “Ouija: Origin of Evil” is a competently made horror film that is miles ahead of its predecessor. And one doesn’t necessarily need to have seen the first film to enjoy this one. In fact, you’re probably better off not having seen the pointless “Ouija.” The film proves that movies based on board games and toys don’t have to be terrible at all if done right. GRADE: B+