Thursday, November 03, 2016

Ouija: Origin of Evil

OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL (Mike Flanagan, 2016)

With the help of her daughters Lina (Annalise Basso), a high school sophomore, and nine-year-old Doris (Lulu Wilson), Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) makes a living in 1967 as a fortune teller out of their Los Angeles home in OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL. Alice doesn’t have a gift that allows her to commune with the dead but views what she does as a different form of counseling for those who need it. To add some variety to her sessions, she purchases a Ouija board.

Alice’s husband was killed by a drunk driver, and she and the girls are still in pain because of his absence. One night Doris uses the Ouija board to attempt to contact her father. She seems to succeed, as well as being able to see and communicate with other spirits that may be less friendly. Doris’ facility with the Ouija board leads Alice to think that her daughter has the supernatural gift that she does not. Lina becomes increasingly troubled by Doris’ behavior. When she finds pages of notes her sister wrote in Polish, she takes them to their school principal, Father Tom Hogan (Henry Thomas), in the hope that they can be translated. What he learns is not reassuring.

OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL is a prequel to the so-so 2014 horror film OUIJA, although knowledge of its predecessor is unnecessary. The board game instigates the action but does not play a major role. Ultimately this is all just an excuse for Hasbro to try to sell some toys. Still, director and co-writer Mike Flanagan incorporates the board effectively, especially when showing the view through the planchette. As the camera peers through it, the limited perspective in a dark room heightens the feeling of vulnerability.

Flanagan picks his spots to show the malevolent forces threatening the Zanders’ well-being. He recognizes that the power of suggestion can often be as scary or more frightening than what can be seen. The board itself is not a fearsome object, yet the evil energy mentally invested in it something taboo charges its appearance on screen. OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL’s most disturbing scene is a conversation Doris has with a boy interested in Lina. The little girl describes in great detail what the sensation of being strangled is like. The unsettling nature of what she is saying exists only in the mind, yet it conjures such strong feelings and images. When a character reaches inside a hole in the wall or crawls through a tight duct, the empathetic impulse that puts the viewer in that person’s place injects tension simply from imagining what it would be like.

OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL puts a nice twist on fear of old things through its period setting and form as a film. Flanagan adds reel change markers and slight warps on the soundtrack when they take effect, adding a little raggedness and sense of unpredictability to the digital file being watched. Again, it’s working toward creating a state of mind that anything could happen, often for the worst.

Grade: B

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