When it was announced that Hasbro were partnering with Universal to make a film of their spooky branded board game no one expected much. Good thing too, because the long-gestating project eventually turned out to be bobbins of the worst kind. So when a sequel was announced expectations started heading even lower. Eventually, it became known that sequel would in fact be prequel and tell the story of how the homicidal spirit of young girl DZ came to be. This time however it would surprisingly go on to get good critical notices.
It’s 1967 and Alice (Reaser) is a widowed mother with two daughters making a kind of nearly-living from helping people ‘contact’ the dead. Her girls Lina (Basso) and Doris (Wilson) assist her in what she refuses to term a scam, instead semi-convincing herself and Doris that what they do helps people. With bills chasing them, Alice takes Lina’s advice and incorporates a Ouija board into the routine. It’s not long until Doris becomes the star of the show,seeming to genuinely contact the other side.
Alice and her girls are still raw from losing husband and father Roger some time earlier, and when Doris seems to make contact with him, it’s too good to be true. It is of course, with the family house a home to other, less friendly spirits with their own agendas. Soon enough, Doris is changing and not for the better.
Writer (along with Jeff Howard) and director Mike Flanagan was charged with putting together a convincing explanation for Doris and how she came to be a murderous malevolence. Where the film works is in the focus he takes. Alice, Lina and Doris make a realistic family unit, bound together in barely shared but deeply felt grief. The film takes time for us to get to know them, and convinces in doing so.
Flanagan eschews much in the way of cheap scares or cheap shots, instead setting about building mood and a decent emotional connection. Keeping the effects to a restrained level for much of the running time, it’s more The Conjuring than sledgehammer spookery. Even Henry Thomas, as the Basil Exposition of the film, manages to get a decent part that’s more than just explaining events.
It isn’t perfect. When the effects do come, they’re shaky and don’t always cast the hoped-for spell, undermining that atmosphere the film has worked hard for. By tying into the events of the first film Flanagan takes some narrative leaps that don’t really stand up. But there’s still much to recommend and with some clever ideas, it works more often than not, and is far better than anyone was reasonably expecting.
OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: MIKE FLANAGAN / SCREENPLAY: MIKE FLANAGAN, JEFF HOWARD / STARRING: ELIZABETH REASER, ANNALISE BASSO, PARKER MACK, LULU WILSON, LIN SHAYE / RELEASE DATE: 27TH FEBRUARY