Taking place before the utterly drab Ouija, this creative prequel from burgeoning director Mike Flanagan (Hush, Oculus) delivers an eerily fun experience that makes amends for it’s appalling successor.
In 1967 Alice Zander, a fortune teller who scams clients with the help of her two daughters Doris and Lina, is struggling to make ends meet. In need of new material she adds the use of a ouija board to her act, but following it’s introduction Doris suddenly acquires the ability to channel the voices of the dead. Alice capitalises on the new development by using Doris in her readings, but soon discovers something sinister is now lurking in her home.
Prequels have always been a tough sell, despite being the products of successful films they more often than not end up becoming unnecessary bankrupt narratives. Mike Flanagan, who has been on a tear recently in the horror genre, helps Ouija: Origin of Evil succeed in every department where its successor failed (which was pretty much everywhere). In fact you could even go so far to say that it’s one of the best prequels to grace the silver screen, especially in the horror genre.
What helps this prequel stand out not just from the film that follows it sequentially, but it’s contemporary supernatural counterparts this year, is it avoids the tropes of the genre and gives time to story. Utilising a 1960s setting liberates the film from modern snags of our way of life and technology, allowing the film more focus on the characters who inhabit the story which is very much about family. The performances from the trio of women who lead the film are fantastic especially those from Annalise Basso and Lulu Wilson, who play sisters Lina and Doris respectively. Wilson demonstrates a knack for playing an appallingly creepy kid whilst Basso gets thoroughly stuck into the emotionally charged role of the older sister. But the real star of the film is the direction.
Horror films, especially those of the supernatural sub genre, require inventive and unexpected direction to keep the audience from predicting frights and eliciting scares. James Wan is a genius with it, and Mike Flanagan is not far behind. For the majority of the film the building of fear is subtle as it rumbles alongside the development of the characters and story. As the climax escalates, it becomes a little less nuanced but retains the fun as a possessed Doris starts using all four walls, and ceiling, to terrorise her mother and sister. Admittedly the final look of Doris bore a similarity to the thing from the end of the Lights Out short by David F. Sandberg, but hey it’s just as nightmarishly effective.
Though Jeff Howard deserves props as his writing partner, Mike Flanagan is ascending the horror genre at a solid pace, and Ouija: Origin of Evil is another step on the ladder to becoming a master of the horror genre. It’s ghoulish, dramatic and wonderfully directed, and the perfect type of film for Halloween.