It’s late October, which means that it’s time to sit at home on a Monday night while children come door knocking dressed as Captain America (or wearing a sheet with the eye holes cut out, depending on Mum and Dad’s budget), only to be pointedly told that this isn’t America, and no you can’t have a Freddo frog, tiny Jedi kid!
Anyway, it also means it’s time for quality horror films to find their way into the cinema for people looking for a Halloween scare to devour. Unfortunately, everyone forgot to make the movies this year, so the only option is Ouija: Origin of Evil, the prequel to the 2014 “hit” film Ouija, which has the dubious distinction of being the worst board-game movie adaptation – and that category includes Battleship.
Origin of Evil takes the franchise to 1965, where widowed mother Alice Zander operates a fortune telling and seance scam with her two daughters, Lina and Doris. After playing the game with her friends, Lina suggests to her mother that they should incorporate a Ouija board into the act. But when Alice begins to test the board out, the spirit of her late husband begins communicating through the board – and through Doris. Alice and Doris begin exploring this phenomenon, but the changes that it creates in Doris soon begin to worry Lina, and the school principal Father Tom begins to investigate whether the spirit is all it’s cracked up to be.
Now, here’s my problem with this film – it fails on both the fronts where a horror movie can succeed. Not spectacularly in either case, but still a failure. Three big horror films have proven to be a hit this year, including The Conjuring 2, Light’s Out and Don’t Breathe, and all of them had one thing in common – they were scary enough to provoke a response from me. This film was not. There were some jump scares for shock value, sure, but no atmospheric tension. Nothing that creeps the viewer out when they’re lying in bed. So, on that front, Origin of Evil simply doesn’t work. It’s got the same scare factor as the average Disney musical.
The other method in which a horror movie can succeed is the harder path – where the film isn’t necessarily the scariest movie you’ve ever seen (though it may have some horrific scenes within to enter the genre), but it’s a strong example of filmmaking. Think films like The Shining, Silence of the Lambs or the more recent It Follows. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Ouija prequel doesn’t show that level of storytelling and direction, though it does, at the very least, manage to tell something of a story. But it’s not a terribly interesting or well-told one. The director of this film, Mike Flanagan, has told more interesting stories – including Oculus.
That all said, the performances in this movie were fine, and even in some cases, engaging. The main spotlight goes to the children – Doris (played by Lulu Wilson) and Lina (played by Annalise Basso). The adult characters are fine, but forgettable and poorly fleshed out. Lulu Wilson, however, gives Doris an eerie quality once she has been possessed by the spirit, and came close to making the film unnerving just by her presence. The main plaudits, however, go to Basso. She was strong as the doubting sister, and she did everything that is expected and more in a film like this.
Not to say I told you so, but I would like to point to my Captain Fantastic review where I predicted that we’d see a lot more of the child actors – a list that included Basso. While here career is far from solidified, she seems definitely on track to – at the very least – get the parts that need someone similar to Karen Gillan, but able to pull off a convincing American accent.
And with one comment I have earned the wrath of Amy Pond… whoops.
At the end of the day, I can’t bring myself to score this film very highly. There’s undoubtedly worse things out there, and if you’re desperate for a horror movie in the spooky season, I guess you could do worse. And it’s better than it’s predecessor. But I’d hesistate to call it good, either.
2.3/5 – An improvement in a struggling franchise, but not a great movie.
P.S. For all you Ouija completists who want to see this film, stick around for the exciting post-credits scene that ties the franchise together!