When “Ouija” hit the theaters in 2014, it did not exactly earn glowing reviews. Its Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer was a dreadful 7% (that’s what percentage of reviews were favorable) and the audience rating was a little better but still a feeble 24%. And its IMDB rating sits at 4.4.
So it really looked like any followup movies were highly unlikely.
That is, until writer-director Mike Flanagan decided to take a shot at it. Flanagan generates a lot of excitement in the realm of horror movies, having entertained genre fans with “Oculus,” “Hush” and “Before I Wake.”
Rather than continuing to explore the fates of the sisters Laine (Olivia Cooke) and Sarah (Ana Coto) following their horrifying experiences with the Zander girls that were unleashed by the use of a Ouija board, Flanagan opted to backtrack and focus on what led to Doris Zander having her mouth sewn up and why Doris’ sister Paulina now as a middle-aged adult is in an institution.
The result is a prequel, “Ouija: Origin of Evil” that far surpasses the original movie.
The film takes us back in time to 1967. Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) is a widowed mother of two daughters, Lina (Annalise Basso), a sophomore in high school, and Doris (Lulu Wilson), a nine-year-old who does not mix well socially. The death of her husband has left Alice in a precarious financial situation. She tries to make ends meet by offering seances to help people contact loved ones now passed on. It’s a scam, really, with Alice enlisting the help of her daughters to pull off the trickery. Though it all is fake, Alice is unapologetic, believing she is really is offering a service of closure.
In order to help prop her struggling business, Alice purchases an Ouija board. While Lina, who is not entirely invested in this seance scene, is not enthusiastic about this acquisition, Doris takes to it right away, claiming she can now contact her late father via the board. But Doris also is having some interaction with a spirit named Marcus she claims is a friend.
But soon it is apparent that Doris, who is a little strange anyway, has a gift of channeling restless spirits. Doris writes several pages of text in cursive style she has not been taught yet at the Catholic where she and Lina are enrolled, and this catches the attention of the school’s principal, Father Tom (ET’s buddy Henry Thomas). Meanwhile, Lina is having some terrifying dreams while also trying to cultivate a budding relationship with a senior boy, Mikey (Parker Mack).
Alice initially finds Doris’ gifts exciting. But then Lina catches Doris energetically scribbling more text, that ends up being in Polish. She takes the writings to Father Tom, who has them translated by a nun who is from Poland. The texts reveal that the house in which the Zanders reside has a sinister past. And things are not so friendly any more in the spirit world swirling about in the home.
The casting is superb. Reaser is both tragic but strong as a mother struggling with the death of her husband and trying to maintain some stability for her daughters. And with Doris providing a channel to what lies beyond, Alice sees her own beliefs shaken at the same time unnerving things are unfolding.
Wilson is a true find as Doris, looking innocent and vulnerable but capable of projecting a creepiness when under the influence of the nasty entities. Her monologue, when she describes to Mikey what it is like to being choked to death, is chilling to the core.
Basso also holds her own as Lina, being tugged in different directions as she deals with teenage issues, serving as a big sister and struggling as a daughter trying to cope with the loss of a father while being supportive of her mother.
“Ouija” effectively taps into the unsettling prospects of one’s home becoming a conduit to evil and how innocent people just trying to survive are thrown into horrible situations.
In the end, Flanagan, and script co-writer Jeff Howard (who collaborated with Flanagan on “Oculus” and “Before I Wake”) present a scary story, nicely setting things up to help the original “Ouija” make a little more sense.