Summer of Horror: Ouija Origin of Evil Pretty good for a terrible idea

A common refrain you read in a lot of reviews for Ouija: Origin of Evil on IMDB and elsewhere is “better than it has any right to be”. And that’s a way of saying that original Ouija, a PG-13, Michael Bay-produced cookie cutter horror movie with a toy company license was exactly as bad as you’d think, and this is a prequel nobody asked for. Except they gave this one to Mike Flanagan…

Last year’s Gerald’s Game was the sleeper horror hit of the year for me. I also quite enjoyed Hush and Oculus. The man knows how to make a horror movie. And even within the confines of this terrible, studio-mandated corporate horror ghetto, he managed to create something above average. Not spectacular, but good enough. 

I never bothered to watch the original Ouija, for reasons that are hopefully abundantly clear, but I don’t think knowledge of that film is at all necessary. Apart from a super quick post-credits stinger, I didn’t notice any references going over my head. After a little Wikipedia perusing, I was made aware that the characters who didn’t survive this movie appear as the ghosts in the first Oujia, so there you go.

This is set in the late 60’s, as has become weirdly common for Blumhouse horror movies to be period pieces, and it’s usually a pet peeve of mine to see blatantly costume-looking hair and fashion in movies set in the recent past. But this Ouija has gone a semi-respectable job of making it believable. It ain’t Mad Men – there’s a couple distracting “groovy”s and all the televisions seem to be talking about the upcoming moon landing – but it’s not bad. The characters are all sympathetic and dimensional. Solid performances, and all that.

If it seems like I’m grasping for things to say, it’s because while Ouija: Origin of Evil is indeed way better than it should have been, it’s ultimately just a down-the-middle, above average haunted house flick. The titular Mystifying Oracle is really not much more than a Macguffin – you could remove it from the movie with some mild script doctoring and still have the same plot, which, as usual, centers around the angry spirits of folks done wrong. It’s also full of “creepy kid” tropes (“Who are you talking to, sweetie?” “My friend!” “…But I don’t see anyone.”) It even has spirits communicating through scary drawings. The strongest elements are the creepy visuals often glimpsed out of focus or nearly out of frame, and jump scares that are present but not exploitative.

The ending is bleak and sort of not fully resolved, but I guess that makes sense as a prequel. It’s a bit like Oculus in that sense. Of the Mike Flanagan films I’ve seen, Ouija: Origin of Evil is the least-good, but still a solid 7/10. I need to see Before I Wake now…

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