By Jason Cueto
“Ouija: The Origin of Evil” is a dull, lifeless corpse of a film composed of unintentional hilarity and zero horror. The original “Ouija” from 2014 was one of those films that flew by me, so it is hard to say whether or not this film improves on its predecessor. From what I read, the original is about a group of characters who unleash an evil spirit from an Ouija game. I was aware of the negative word of mouth, considering it was produced by jumpscare mogul Jason Blum and Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes, the notorious production company behind some of Hollywood’s worst remakes of classic horror films. I had higher hopes for this movie, as it was directed by Mike Flanagan of “Hush” and “Oculus” fame. The film is considered a prequel to 2014’s “Ouija,” but it never nails the “origin” of the eponymous board game.
Where do we even begin with the plot? The film is set in 1960s America and reintroduces the Ouija board game, which comes into the Zander family household. Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) is a widow and single mother who lost her husband in a tragic accident and was left raising two daughters: the rebellious and eldest, Paulina (Annalise Basso) and the youngest, Doris (Lulu Wilson), because every horror film family always has to have a creepy child. Alice tries to make ends meet by scamming clients through tarot card readings and séances. Somebody’s got to feed the family somehow. When the game arrives, Doris is suddenly able to communicate with her dead father through the game, and Alice exploits her daughter’s ability for financial gain. As they continue to use the Ouija board, Doris becomes abnormally drawn to the game until she becomes possessed by a demonic entity. Like its predecessor, this film is a tie-in promotion to the Hasbro board game. It’s apparent in a scene showing Alice at a shop, where she finds Ouija in a stack of new board games. There are rules addressed, but the question remains open if every owner of the game becomes burdened with this curse.
The plot is uninspired, and it struggles to get to anywhere good. Again, the film is a prequel, yet it fails to provide proper backstory behind Ouija’s origins, as it instead focuses on the main characters’ trivial subplots. Even at its slow pace, the film feels rushed, failing to establish atmosphere, tension and portent for things to come. In one sequence, Alice returns home to unbox the game, and all of a sudden, it cuts to Doris speaking in a possessed daze in an awkwardly deep focus shot with Paulina in the background, cross-cutting to Alice explaining the rules of the game. It is never introduced how this girl is psychologically drawn to the spirit, so the audience is supposed to take it at face value. Oftentimes, the entire film stretches, itself and a jumpscare happens. No tension, no buildup. Any sort of throwaway scare feels generic. When they do show the actual ghost it (one) completely spoils the “monster in the dark” convention and (two) is laughable in its CGI appearance, because it has no actual physical presence to elicit terror. At one point, the film falls into a dreadfully cliché dream sequence.
However, there are some redeeming qualities: the production design captures the ‘60s setting and the lighting is serviceable, though most shots in the daylight have a weird glare intruding the frame. The characters are likable, especially Annalise Basso, who lends the best performance and would probably do better in other roles. The other actors are stuck with poor dialogue and given very thin material for character development.
Having not seen 2016’s other horror genre shortcomings, “The Other Side of the Door” and “The Darkness,” I can say that this is the worst horror film of the year. “Blair Witch” was a considerable candidate, but that film had some real scare-factor going. “Ouija: The Origin of Evil” is uneventful and mundane in comparison. From my experience watching it, this film is served best with a couple of friends and some booze; you can get tons of laughs. Otherwise, stick to “The Conjuring 2.”