“Ouija: Origin of Evil”: A Beautiful Frame Around an Ugly Photo

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Like a constantly spurned Tinder user, the movie-going public recklessly searches the world over for one unrequited love – a truly great movie adaption of a video game. And like most Tinder users, the tedious results of endlessly bad options, nauseating amounts of maybe-next-times and the uncountable hours spent searching for ‘the one’ have caused movie goers to momentarily give up hope and look someplace new for love.

Migrating from the unsteady grace of video game movies, Hollywood has introduced to the public a new fixation – the burgeoning application of board games into movies. Unsurprisingly, it hasn’t gone so well. Hilariously bad ideas like a gritty adaptation of Transformers Battleship, featuring aliens, stand at the top of a heap that was once your parent’s delightful childhood. Lower on that heap is 2014’s Ouija, which is flat-out one of the worst horror movies of all time, a toxic sludge created by the trend of micro-budgeting, lazy tween horror and the greed of franchise creation by Hasbro. Surely such a lazy attempt at filmmaking couldn’t possibly make it out of the box office alive, right? Wrong; on a measly $5 million budget Ouija raked in $103.6 million worldwide – gotta love Hollywood. Despite the critical lashing that the supernatural flick received, plans for a second film came into fruition even before the film had finished its opening weekend. Thus, the world is pinned with another date with yet another board game turned movie, this time Ouija: Origin of Evil but several questions have come along for the ride. Will this sequel again follow the trail of failure set forth by its predecessor? Can this property be raised from the dead, with help from hands of actual horror expertise? The only way to answer these questions is to sit down and play the risky game of Ouija once more.

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Ouija: Origin of Evil is the hybrid prequel/sequel to 2014’s Ouija, telling the story of a widowed mother and her two daughters as they perform fake séances in their Los Angeles home during 1967. The family discovers a Ouija gameboard, using it in their act while unwittingly inviting evil spirits into their home. The family is forced to confront the unthinkable creatures that dwell in their house, as well as seek to save their daughter from a cruel spirit. Directed by Mike Flanagan, who delivered hits like 2013’s Oculus and this year’s Netflix sleeper Hush, the film stars Elizabeth Reaser, Annalise Basso and Lulu Wilson as the Zander clan, mother, eldest daughter and youngest daughter respectively. The film is rounded out with a small supporting cast, with Henry Thomas as Father Tom, Parker Mack as Mikey and the man himself, Doug Jones as Marcus.

Aping someone’s aesthetic isn’t always a bad thing, sometimes a person or a property needs a little bit of reference before they take off in their own direction, which is exactly what Ouija 2 does. As though Mike Flannigan and crew were reading a manual on how to make The Conjuring, Ouija 2 delivers astounding cinematography, miles ahead of the bland original. The film grips at a vintage feel and never releases, allowing for a bit of personality in the environment and the actual film to shine through. From reel transitions boasting old school cigarette burns to use of that time periods Universal logo, the movie gains major brownie points for seeping the world of 1960’s California right into the frame.

Ouija 2 is not only better looking than its predecessor but by far better acted and anchored. Following the down-on-their-luck family as they struggle against the evils of the Ouija board interests an audience more than watching a group of 26-year-olds play high school. Lulu Wilson is an absolute standout as Doris Zander, sending shivers down your spine whenever she flashes that demented smile of hers, showcasing a mask of innocence in front of a demonic presence. Overall the entire cast does well with the material, adding depth and range to the relationships of the characters as the film progresses into darker territory. The scares are competent this time around, steering away from the more cliché “I didn’t hear you come in” jump scares and right at the rigid horror that remains in the family house. Ouija: Origin of Evil surprises you from the jump at just how well it is made, how amazing it looks – well, for the first half at least.

Like a hooptie with a sports car body kit, Ouija 2 impresses at a glance, but closer inspection only shows just how tired and old it is on the inside. Sinking like a stone at about the midway point, Flannigan and crew decide to retread the first movie all over again, to the detriment of the good graces that were built up until that point. Ouija 2 fitters off into nonsense at the onset of the demonic presence, dropping laughably bad CGI into the frame and restraining any real horror to the boring mythology of the first film.

Ouija: Origin of Evil is easily a massive improvement over the first film, while which isn’t saying much, doesn’t negate the balanced acting of the cast and well shot nature of the movie. If not for sticking to a horrible guideline set by Ouija 1, Ouija 2 could have managed to be another one of the year’s better horror movies.

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