Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)

First things first, the original OUIJA was forgettable. I would sooner take any of the WITCHBOARD movies over the first OUIJA and even those were barely passable. Secondly, the director of OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL is one of my favorite horror directors working today so know that up front when you see my rating and read this assessment. As much as I thought OCULUS was superbly well-edited and genuinely shocking, his first film ABSENTIA, I saw under circumstances involving a painful bout of Shingles, bed rest, and fever dreams due to the medications I was taking. That film, although clearly a debut, remains special to me for that reason along with RESOLUTION, which admittedly is not as assured as Flanagan’s work. For the past three years, I have been excited for whatever he does next.

Eventually, BEFORE I WAKE will come out and it could very well be my favorite of his to date. But running close behind is one of the biggest surprises of the year, and that is a sequel to a movie that I barely got through. If the audience I saw this with is any indication, I am hoping this is a surprise hit for Flanagan so he can keep working indefinitely.OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL does nearly everything I want from a horror film with remarkable precision. The fluidity of the cuts here do not match that of OCULUS, but never every shot, angle, lighting choice and jump scare worked for me. Yes, I even said “jump scare” which normally I consider to be tiresome and eye-rolling. But Flanagan orchestrates the proceedings beautifully, with style and grace to boot. I couldn’t help but think of this being a collaboration of DePalma and James Wan, but it’s still remarkably original in execution thanks to Flanagan. Not to mention like the majority of his work, I am emotionally invested in the characters and become devastated when they experience sheer terror. In 1965 Los Angeles, a widowed mother and her two daughters add a new stunt to bolster their seance scam business and unwittingly invite authentic evil into their home. When the youngest daughter (played spectacularly by Lulu Wilson) is overtaken by a merciless spirit, the family confronts the unthinkable to save her soul and send her possessor back to the other side. Again, this is a synopsis we’ve read dozens of times in the world of horror, but Flanagan as expected, elevates the material from the get-go and never lets up.

My only complaint comes in the final moments which much like DON’T BREATHE keep it from being a full-blown masterpiece for me. Like I mentioned, there may be many who walk out of this thinking it’s nothing special. Yes, there are jump scares and visually arresting CGI shocks that may or may not be hallucinatory. However, this is also grounded in reality thanks to the performances of everyone in the family who really gives this material weight and substance. We care about what happens to them and that’s not always the case with these types of stories (see the original OUIJA for an example). Metaphorically, Flanagan has tackled the lasting power of grief before. In fact, a lot of recent horror films really try to aim higher and maybe that’s why I’ve responded to them so strongly. I’m sure a lot of horror fans will find this to be satisfying but nothing special. For me, it continues the trajectory of one of modern horror’s greatest (and to some degree bleakest) directors, who certainly may wear out his welcome when it comes to the themes he’s embracing, but definitely not for me. As this unfolded, I was overjoyed with nearly every choice and every subtle or rapid movement of the camera. Flanagan knows exactly how to execute a scare using either approach. When it comes to the material that OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL handles so refreshingly well, I will be rewatching this way more in the future than any INSIDIOUS or CONJURING movie. In fact, this film is right up there with both THE WITCH and DON’T BREATHE as one of this year’s very best horror films.   B+

James Laczkowski