Film review by Jason Day of the horror movie Ouija: Origin of Evil about a fake seance which accidentally raises actual spirits from ‘the other side’. Starring Annalise Basso and directed by Mike Flanagan.
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After the death of her husband in a car accident, show medium Alize (Elizabeth Reaser) hosts fake seances to ‘help’ her clients, supported by her daughters Lena (Annalise Basso) and Doris (Lulu Wilson). Piloting the use of a Ouija board, they accidentally conjure up several dead spirits who used to live in their house and were tortured by a Nazi scientist in hiding. Things take a turn for the worse when Doris’ body is possessed by one of them who seeks to manipulate her for evil purposes.
Review, by Jason Day
Despite the fact Hallowe’en is this Monday, it’s a very quiet time of the year for horror movies, this fake-seance prequel to 2014’s Ouija being the only mainstream scare-flick showing in UK cinemas this weekend.
Even the UK TV schedules seem to be lacking in that certain scary feeling, with only the comical Goosebumps (2015) and largely musical Into the Woods (2015) having any sort of chill-down-your-spine value.
That said, we are fortunate to have a good horror to celebrate all Hallows in this film, that sends out some quality shocks. This is despite the lackadaisical handling throughout, that at times proves more unnerving than the thrills the director is trying to give us.
To clarify, Ouija: Origin of Evil is a fantastically pleasing supernatural horror whilst simultaneously managing to be an, at times, poorly constructed and acted movie.
The film is set in the mid-1960’s so we open with the Universal films logo from that period, a dusky blue planet surrounded by clouds of intergalactic, Star Trek dust. Once a smart period-setting technique, this is now so overused its getting to be something of a clumsy cliche.
There are no social workers in this film, which is a good job because they’d have a lot of work to do. Director/co-writer Flanagan might have veered off course and delivered a different movie, considering the massive child welfare issues here.
Not only are Reaser’s underage children both employed in her mock ‘therapeutic’ seances, its unclear if they are even paid and one is even locked in a cupboard.
But their headteacher (Henry Thomas), who is also a priest, also appears unconcerned with such shenanigans. He even takes part in a seance lead by the youngest child and is more concerned with the accuracy of her skills and offering a critique of the ‘performance’.
But what do critics know?
Well, they do know a bit about what makes an effective horror film and, good Lord, does this one fulfil its functions ably.
You can judge whether a film employing shock tactics is worth recommending if you feel something when watching it. I don’t necessarily mean whether you end up crying or empathising deeply with the characters, but if your body literally reacts to the events on screen.
With Ouija: Origin of Evil I experienced something I’ve definitely never felt before when seeing a horror film. Pulses of freezing cold emanated from my stomach and slowly radiated out to my arms and legs. It was such a paralysing sensation, I slipped down in my chair.
Now, I’ve been scared by horror movies before and felt anxious at the tension worked up by a director, but never physically incapacitated by one.
On that basis alone, Ouija: Origin of Evil is a film I give the thumbs up to.
One other big positive to note is the splendid production design. From hair and make-up to costume and most especially the sets and costumes, there is a good level of period imitation, even more impressive for a film only budgeted at $9million.
The colour scheme is a mix of autumnal oranges, neutral browns to the vivid, neon blues of the pool reflected on the teenagers during a joke seance at the beginning. Throughout the film, pockets of warm, holy light cascade down into the dark of the sets.
For those of you of a more discerning nature, you may feel distracted by the relatively poor acting (the adults in particular) and some incomprehensible moments. A dead body suddenly drops from the ceiling, hanging by the neck. The adults have little reaction to this and move on to the next scene. Basso asks Thomas if anyone speaks Polish and he states he will ask around. Then, in his next sentence, recalls a colleague who arrived in the States from Poland in the 1940’s and might speak the language.
It’s incredible two screenwriters weren’t able to smooth these kinks in the script out.
Wilson, as creepy little Doris, manages to out-freak Heather O’Rourke and her televisual antics in Poltergeist (1982) with a very unsettling and laudable performance as the cute girl possessed by the evil dead.
She doesn’t quite erase memories of Linda Blair in The Exorcist (1973) but, without the head spinning, crucifix masturbating and voice of Mercedes McCambridge, that is a tough spot to fill.
Cast & credits
Director: Mike Flanagan. 99mins. Allspark Pictures/Blumhouse Productions/Hasbro/Platinum Dunes. (15)
Producers: Michael Bay, Jason Blum, Stephen Davis, Andrew Form, Brian Goldner.
Writers: Mike Flanagan, Jeff Howard.
Camera: Michael Fimognari.
Music: The Newton Brothers.
Sets: Patricio M. Farrell.
Elizabeth Reaser, Annalise Basso, Lulu Wilson, Henry Thomas, Peter Mack, Doug Jones, Chelsea Gonzalez.