Ouija: Origin of Evil is the prequel to 2014's Ouija and tells the story of that movie's antagonist (Doris). Alice Zander is a mother of two who, with the aid of her children, uses parlour tricks to convince people they are contacting their loved ones. One day Alex brings home an Ouija board to use for her act and it is discovered that her younger daughter (Doris) really can communicate with the dead. Alex puts Doris to work as a medium, but doesn't see the damage this does to her.
The central strength of Ouija: Origin of Evil is the clear and sympathetic motivation of Alex as a character. In the beginning when her claims of putting people in touch with their relatives are false she believes that she is doing good work, because she gives them closure. This is mirrored in her own desire for closure due to the death of her husband before the events of the movie. This need for closure means that it is only natural when the movie depicts her as being unaware of the danger she is placing Doris in, and the warning signs that Doris' gift isn't all that it appears to be.
This loss underpins the actions of the character throughout the film and gives Ouija: Origin of Evil an air of tragedy. All of the performances are strong in this regard but the strongest is Lulu Wilson as Doris Zander. Lulu Wilson plays Doris' transformation from innocent child to movie antagonist perfectly. When she first starts using the ouija board she exudes a calm that makes it feel like she is in complete control of the situation and this really adds to the otherworldly nature her character takes on by the end of the film. Thanks to Lulu Wilson's performance the change from innocent child to an inhuman being of malice, and rage is a gradual one that the other characters and audience don't realise until it is too late.
Sadly the actual horror in the movie isn't always as strong as the characters or their motivation. The supposed rules of the board are mentioned but we never see one of them actually enforced, so a later broken rule has less impact. Early attempts at horror come across as unintentional comedy rather than anything genuinely scary. A scene in which Doris uses her powers against two bullies is clearly supposed to be dramatic, and terrifying is just really funny. When your horror movie has you rooting for the demon ghost girl you are usually doing something wrong.
This isn't a problem that lasts and the by the third act the movie has realised its true potential. The nature of the spirits that ultimately plague the family is simple, and avoids convolution. Like the Zander's grief the spirits' anger boils down to a simple, believable reason that makes them all the more menacing.
Ouija: Origin of Evil has an uneven start but ends on a high note thanks to strong characters, a plot that wisely invests its focus in the struggles that inform their actions. It explores questions left by its predecessor without feeling restricted by it.
OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: MIKE FLANAGAN / SCREENWRITERS:
MIKE FLANAGAN, JEFF HOWARD / STARRING: ANNALISE BASSO, ELIZABETH REASER, LULU
WILSON, HENRY THOMAS, PARKER MACK / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW