“OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL” (Film Review)Movies/TV,News,Reviews Ken W. Hanley
As one of the best filmmakers working today in the horror genre, Mike Flanagan possesses a certain perspective that has made him a tried-and-true boon to contemporary horror audiences. While subjects such as haunted mirrors, interdimensional passageways, and masked slashers can come off as stale to veteran horror fans, Flanagan’s perspective finds a way to make them unique and fresh again, from the unreliable reality of OCULUS to the visualized internal monologue of HUSH. And with his latest film, the prequel OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL, not only does Flanagan implement that perspective to offer a decidedly old-school and satisfying upgrade from the abysmal original film, but he does such with a mature and precise craftsmanship that has cemented the filmmaker’s status as “Master of Horror.”
The aforementioned precision is apparent from the opening moments of the film, going as far as the period-appropriate placecard to capture the atmosphere of the 1967-set story. From there, Flanagan captures an introductory seance, offering our first look at Madame Zander, her children Paulina and Doris, and their faux-supernatural schtick. And in this sequence alone and the immediate subsequent fall-out, Flanagan reveals everything the audience needs to know about this family: their personal gripes with their “scam,” their sense of morality, their mourning of a recent loss, and how that loss adds a bittersweet emptiness to their “readings.” All of this without clunky exposition, flashbacks, or voiceover; it’s conveyed clearly, and endearingly, via naturalistic dialogue that keeps the narrative moving while building character, which is all too rare in studio horror these days.
But once the Ouija board comes into play, not only does Flanagan continue his excellent storytelling, but he does so while providing scares, suspense, and even a conscience relation to the mythology of the original OUIJA. Not only is he successful in this cinematic balancing act, but he does so while keeping things fresh; none of the horror moments of OUIJA feel familiar, cheap, or unearned. But Flanagan’s perspective really comes into play during the Ouija scenes, and once the planchette begins moving by itself at breakneck speed in front of a grinning little girl, suddenly, a familiar sequence plays as unsettling, patient, and dread-inducing. By the time the third act comes into play, Flanagan and Co. are firing on all cylinders, and as the connections between OUIJA films become more concrete, even those who know how the story ends will be hanging off the edge of their seats.
Flanagan isn’t the only one deserving of credit for the success of OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL, with the script (co-written by Jeff Howard) offering a legitimately emotional story that is equal parts clever and creepy. The cinematography from Michael Fimognari is incredibly impressive, feeling significantly appropriate to the time period while aiding in some incredibly fun long-take tricks and using depth to better tell the story. Meanwhile, the score from The Newton Brothers works wonders, going above and beyond a jump scare soundtrack and really resonating during the more intense sequences of the film. And the FX work from Martin Astles, Douglas Brown, Todd Tucker, Boxel VFX, and VFX Legion is utterly fantastic, helping create practical and digital frights that work effectively in tandem.
OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL also works as well as it does thanks to its stellar cast, all of whom bring their A-game to the film, which is commendable considering the franchise entry that came before it. Elizabeth Reaser is phenomenal as Madame Zander, playing many dimensions to a vulnerable, mourning, and lovelorn character that one normally doesn’t find in a horror film’s martiarchal character. Meanwhile, Annalise Basso and Lulu Wilson do an incredible job playing Paulina and Doris, respectively, with the latter turning in one of the creepiest child performances in recent memory. And the film also sports memorable turns from Parker Mack, who subverts what you may expect from the typical boyfriend character, and Henry Thomas, who also delivers a multi-faceted take on the typical priest character. Plus, OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL also sports a pair of creepy appearances from creature performer extraordinaire, Doug Jones, which are always welcome in studio horror these days.
Overall, OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL is not only a great genre offering, but one of the best horror films in a year full of fantastic fright fare. Flanagan, at the top of his game, shows the mark of a seasoned genre filmmaker relatively early in his directorial career, creating a petrifying prequel that works so well on its own merits, it may actually play better for those unfamiliar with the first film. The film offers scares, shocks, humor, and story, sometimes simultaneously, and above all, the film is exceptionally fun, making it perfect for those looking for an eerie Halloween season escape.