Oujia: Origin of Evil Blu-Ray review
This review contains spoilers.
Where many modern horror franchises often opt to follow up their opening instalment with a sequel, with the intent of saving their prequel entries for much later down the line, the creators behind 2014’s Ouija have instead boldly opted to tell an origin tale for their second outing. This is a risky move, because although the groundwork for this prequel lore was laid in Ouija, opting for a prequel this early in the franchise is essentially asking the audience to discard any narrative progression and end up back at square one (the point at which the first film began).
Due to this, as prequel must not only expound upon the origins of the mythos, but it has to provide audiences with something unique that makes the whole retrospective journey worthwhile. Ouija: Origin of Evil succeeds in both respects. It provides a deeper insight into who the evil spirits are that plague this house and it also provides several unique qualities, not the least of which is a classy, nostalgic period (1960s) approach. This choice of era lends a kind of charm (similar to the kind of charm that game franchises like BioShock and Fallout provide in their adept use of 1950s culture) that you don’t often find in modern horror films, which automatically transports you back to the golden age of horror.
To its further credit, Ouija: Origin of Evil for the most part doesn’t opt for cheap thrills, but retains a calm and refined approach to its storytelling, emanating a far more sensible and assured feel in the process. The film opens with a family – lead by mother Alice (Elizabeth Reaser) – pulling scam mediumship sessions on customers who come to attain a connection with lost loved ones. Interestingly, Alice attempts to justify this deception to her daughters by often telling them that they are providing a good thing in the form of closure and comfort for their clients. It’s a curious logic and no doubt Alice relays this only to deceive herself and her daughters into the notion that they aren’t doing anything wrong, because no matter how you look at it, lying to someone about their departed loved one is very deeply immoral.
This basis of deception works to the film’s benefit in a few ways. Firstly it appeals to sceptical viewers by presenting a “this is all fake” groundwork, before slowly lowering the viewer into a “maybe this is real” curiosity. I’m not saying that this film will make you a believer in the paranormal (I don’t believe), but I am saying that the film admirably at least opens on the side of the sceptic, rather than jumping straight into supernatural strangeness. It’s a nice change to the norm, which is a film automatically assuming its right to hurl supernatural events at you, without pause for thought that they might be fake.
Secondly, it works from the perspective of knowing your trade. Alice taught her daughters this trade of deceit and theatricality, so when it comes to later in the film, when Alice is choosing to believe in the presence of her dead husband, elder daughter Lina (Annalise Basso) takes the sceptical stance and actually uses the learns from their trade as rational ammunition to argue against her mother. She points out that the answers supposedly being provided by her dead father, through youngest daughter Doris (Lulu Wilson), are vague and directly in line with the kind of deceit that her mother used to employ in her mediumship.
As can be seen from the aforementioned characters, this is a very female-heavy core cast and the film is all the better for it. It allows a closeness to be shared that’s only possible between mother (notably a single mother, which was not the norm for this period) and daughter ,or sister and sister, and equally an enraged spitefulness too that can only come from those same combinations. Lulu Wilson does a superb job as the central antagonist and is able to portray both adorable and menacing in the same instance. Even writer/director/editor Mike Flanagan himself states that he feels lucky every day that they found Lulu and that she elevates the film. Annalise Basso (whom Flanagan chose because of working with her on Oculus), who was great in Captain Fantastic, again proves that she’s a talent to watch out for, crafting an elder sister here who is both intelligent and petty. Elizabeth Reaser pulls off the maternal role of Alice wonderfully, presenting us with a mother who is feisty when she needs to be, but who is also deeply caring and protective of her daughters.
The supporting cast is the only place that the male actors lay. The superb Henry Thomas (E.T., Niagara, Niagara) plays Father Tom Hogan; a very calm and adept priest who quickly cottons onto the deception being employed by the spirits in control of Doris. Personally I’d love to see Thomas cast in far more films than he appears in, within modern cinema. Parker Mack is similarly pitch perfect as Lina’s love interest Mikey, with the two sharing a slow and charming courtship that feels appropriate to the dating inclinations of the era.
While the film does tread some generic and ludicrous horror ground, such as having the cause of the ghosts be a sadistic Doctor from World War II who used to experiment on them, or having Doris scale walls, like we’ve seen in a hundred different possession films, it also has some unique moments that make up for this. These include Doris explaining to Mikey what it feels like to die by strangulation, which she relays in a lengthy and rather poetic monologue that ends in: “…you see stars, then darkness, then the last thing you feel is cold.” It’s a brutal and insightful moment and the look on Mikey’s face is priceless. Other memorable moments include a certain hanged character being repossessed momentarily, so that their corpse can remove a character from the equation, and the idea that evil spirits know how to answer Ouija questions correctly because the person asking often thinks the answer as they ask the question.
Ouija: Origin of Evil achieves that rare accomplishment that is being far superior to the original. As a prequel, it achieves the goal of laying deeper groundwork for the franchise and providing an ending that slots in well with the run up to the first film. It utilises its 1960s setting with class and a calm sensibility, and its familial construct with respect, both of which serves to make the film feel superior to the generic thrill-drenched horrors that you’ll find littering the current cinematic landscape. As director Mike Flanagan mentions in the extras: “This was never a movie that I wanted to make just for horror fans; I think there’s a lot here that a much broader audience can relate to.” While there are some cheap thrills within, Ouija: Origin of Evil is more thoughtful than the average horror affair and is well worth your time.
The Blu-Ray and DVD extras provide a host of worthwhile content. The deleted scenes reveal some very valuable insight into both Lina and Alice. Lina is revealed to have never kissed a boy before, which gives more context to her her gleeful joy at being courted by Mikey. The scenes also confirm that Alice is indeed chasing Father Tom in a romantic fashion. During the film she attends a restaurant meet with him in a short and attractive dress, but that’s as much of a hint as you are given. In the deleted scenes, however, she is clearly flirtatious with him in one scene and she is seen donning very dark red lipstick in another, then wiping it off, in knowing that it is too much.
The Making Of documentary highlights that Annalise and Lulu were as close as sisters on set and it also allows the viewer to get to know both Mike Flanagan and Doug Jones a little better, the latter of which is himself now a legend within modern horror films, having played so many strange and notable creatures. There is also a feature-length commentary with Flanagan which no doubt would shed even further insight into his creative process. Something else well worth a watch (which isn’t on the extras) is the prank that Lulu undertook on an audience of unsuspecting teenagers in a cinema screening of the film.
To celebrate the release of Ouija: Origin of Evil, which is available now on Digital Download, Blu-ray™ and DVD, we’re giving 2 lucky winners the chance to win a copy of the film on Blu-ray. Just simply follow @TheNerdRecites on twitter and retweet the below tweet to be entered into our prize draw.
— The Nerd Recites (@TheNerdRecites) February 27, 2017
The prize draw ends this Friday, 3rd March 2017, is open worldwide and you must be a minimum of 18 years old to enter.
Ouija: Origin of Evil is now available on Digital Download, Blu-ray™ and DVD
Image credits: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment