I’ve become cynical about trailers for scary movies. Anyone with a modicum of editing skill can slap together a good preview out of 90 minutes of footage, no matter how bland the film is. So when the trailer for “Ouija: Origin of Evil” made me perk up, I remembered how many times I’d felt like Charlie Brown, extending my bag again and again in the hope of something good being dropped in, only to see I’d been given another rock, and tempered my expectations. Well, movie fans, open your bag in good faith this Halloween because “Ouija: Origin of Evil” is a treat.
“Ouija: Origin of Evil” is set in 1965, and revolves around a widowed mother and her two daughters. It has a terrific sixties vibe, with music, clothes, and set design that not only is well done but also puts its central characters at odds with society. At that time, a family was still said to be a father, a mother, and their kids; a woman typically didn’t rear her children on her own. But Alice Zander is doing just that, and her two daughters are generally well adjusted.
Still, Pauline, a teenager, and nine-year-old Doris are seen as strange by everyone but the principal at the local Catholic school, played by a slightly stiff Henry Thomas of “E.T.” fame. (You know you’re getting old when the actor you watched play Elliott can pull off playing the head of a Catholic school.)
To make ends meet, Alice works as a fortune teller out of their home. Although she’s a fraud, and involves her daughters in pulling off fake séances, she has a good heart, and is doing what she must to take care of her family.
One of the things I admire about “Ouija: Origin of Evil” is how it takes it’s time to develop these characters into people I cared about. I almost hated the moment things started to go South because I liked them, and wanted them to have a happy ending. I’d forgotten that such a thing would be impossible in a film subtitled, “Origin of Evil.”
One night, Pauline sneaks out to party with friends, and an Ouija board becomes part of the evening. They get caught, but instead of getting mad, Alice is intrigued by the idea of adding an Ouija board to her act.
But when she does, something unexpected happens – while Doris is playing with it, she demonstrates what Alice believes is a high sensitivity to the spiritual world and a genuine paranormal connection to the dead. Having seen more than a few scary movies, I knew better, and settled in to watch the story unfold.
While “Ouija: Origin of Evil” has plenty of creepy hijinks and several very effective scares, it never strays from its roots as a character-oriented drama, nor does it regress into a rollercoaster ride for the sake of cheap thrills. One of my favorite moments has nothing to do with the supernatural goings-on, but with the way Pauline cleverly figures out that what Doris is doing might not have anything to do with her perceived abilities.
The actors do a superb job of supporting all of the effort that was put into the writing and the physical production. While the entire case is good, I was captivated by young Lulu Wilson, who played Doris. Her transformation from doe-eyed youngster into, well, something else is not only believable but captivating to watch. There’s a scene in which Doris describes what it feels like to be choked to death to Pauline’s boyfriend, and man, Wilson sells it. I got literal chills.
It seems a lot of affection was poured into “Ouija: Origin of Evil.” Director Mike Flanagan, who also helmed the excellent screamer “Oculus,” does strong work from behind the camera, down to making subtle stylistic choices. Set in an old house with a handful of characters inhabiting its core, “Ouija: Origin of Evil” looks and feels like a Hammer horror film from the sixties. There are even cigarette burns in the upper right corner of the screen and slight jumps where the reels in a film used to change in a theater. I smiled when I saw the first one.
“Ouija: Origin of Evil” is a sequel to a terrible and quickly forgotten film (“Ouija”), and is therefore far better than anyone could have expected. If you’re going to celebrate Halloween at the movies, please, for the love of all that is good and holy, see it instead of “Boo! A Madea Halloween.”