OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL, US, 2016. Starring Elizabeth Reaser, Lulu Wilson, Annalisa Basso, Henry Thomas, Doug Jones, Lin Shaye. Directed by Mike Flanagan. 99 minutes. Rated M (Supernatural themes).
Checking on the number of films with Ouija in the title, it appears that there are quite a few, many of them in recent years. Does this mean that Ouija boards are becoming more popular? Or that they are a handy way of introducing variations on horror films?
This version, which is a prequel to the film, Ouija, 2014, immediately shows seances and the possibilities for a scam – although Alice Xander and her two daughters conduct the seances but try to be kind and nonjudgemental to their clients. The older daughter sneaks out at night to join friends who have a Ouija board and they play it, highlighting how people can put pressure on the board to get the answers required.
This would hardly be the basis for a horror film! Alice Xander (Elizabeth Reaser) decides it wouldn’t do any harm to buy a Ouija board as a prop for future seances. And they try it out, attempting to make contact with the deceased husband and father – with unexpected results for them and expected results for us. There is something obviously sinister about this Ouija board.
The film will remind horror addicts of scary scenes in many another film, and some overtones of The Exorcist, as well as some monster creatures – who, not to our surprise, have been inhabiting this house and listening to all that is going on, a background of a sadistic doctor in the concentration camps in World War II and migrating to the United States, still being sinister. The date for this prequel is 1967.
1967 is interesting as a date for the priest character in the film, Father Tom, played by ET’s Henry Thomas. Henry Thomas is closer to 50 than 40 and it is revealed that before becoming a priest he had been married with his wife dying. He seems quite a sensible priest, offering good advice, the principal of the school which the girls attend, instrumental in solving a puzzle about mysterious writing that appears in the house, detailing that story of the monster in World War II. There are a few frissons about clerical celibacy when he invites Alice to dinner at a restaurant, solely to talk about the situation of the girls and the mysterious happenings at home. and, like a good priest, he investigates the Ouija board in order to deceive the demon, but…
As with The Exorcist and some other films, it is the little girl who is the key to the proceedings, who seems to be open to the seemingly supernatural, who can be possessed by demons, speaking different voices, experiencing all kinds of physical contortions while possessed. Lulu Wilson is particularly effective as the little girl, Doris, often stealing the show from the adults. Her character was central to the original Ouija film. Annalise Basso is the teenage daughter trying to help her sister as well as her mother – and with a sympathetic boyfriend.
As well as the scary atmosphere, made scary for many audiences because this is a domestic scene, there are quite a number of jump cuts in the editing for people to leap out of their seats and/or to scream.
Horror fans will notice the name of Lin Shaye in the final credits – linking her to Ouija as well as to the Insidious films and The Conjuring films to which this film is indebted for background in haunted houses and evil spirits. But, the piece of advice: audiences must wait until after the final credits for a new scene, the scene in which Lin Shaye appears.
All in all, not bad.
Universal Released 20th October
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.