'Ouija: Origin of Evil' evokes classic horror, but can't hide its own weaknesses

Posted October 24, 2016

“OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL” — 1 1/2 stars — Elizabeth Reaser, Lulu Wilson, Annalise Basso, Henry Thomas; PG-13 (disturbing images, terror and thematic elements); in general release

For a little while it looks like “Ouija: Origin of Evil” may be just campy and clever enough to elevate its B-movie material. Unfortunately, by the end of the film, as the plot disintegrates into a confusing mess, director Mike Flanagan’s film devolves into just another routine horror movie.

Set in the late 1960s, “Origin of Evil” is technically a prequel to the 2014 film “Ouija,” about the infamous occult game you can buy at the department store right next to Monopoly and Candy Land. But it’s hard to say whether familiarity with the first movie will help or hurt your experience with this new offering.

It all starts with a widow named Alice (Elizabeth Reaser), who is trying to support her two daughters by posing as a fortune teller. Teenage Paulina (Annalise Basso, playing the younger incarnation of Lin Shaye’s 2014 character) and her younger sister Doris (Lulu Wilson) are a part of the act — blowing out candles and lurking behind curtains — but Alice insists that by giving their customers closure, their scam is actually a public service. Apparently this is how Alice manages to reconcile her career against sending her daughters to the local Catholic school.

But service or not, the show has become routine, so after Paulina tells her mother about the Ouija board she encountered at a party, Alice decides to incorporate one into her act. Subsequently, the board opens a portal to the world of spirits, allowing a demon to possess Doris, unbeknownst to her family.

Once Doris becomes the embodiment of the unholy, staring at TV screens and taunting Paulina’s would-be boyfriend, “Origin of Evil’s” slow start kicks things up a gear, and the movie actually builds some intensity.

A priest from the school named Father Tom (Henry Thomas) gets involved, and since he lost his wife before turning to the ministry, there is some extracurricular tension between him and Alice. Through the second act, “Origin of Evil” shows it has a sense of humor about itself, and some creepy special effects keep the train on the tracks.

Sadly, the spooky train derails in the third act, as revelations about the house’s disturbing past lead to a sloppy showdown that turns the film’s plot into an incomprehensible mess. In an effort to keep getting in one last scare, Flanagan’s narrative collapses, revealing that “Origin of Evil” was just another demonic possession/haunted house movie all along.

It’s too bad, because if “Origin of Evil” has one thing going for it, it’s a sense of its own history. Old-fashioned Universal Pictures logos and grainy opening titles start the movie off with a retro vibe, enhanced by 99 minutes worth of vintage clothing. Furthermore, eagle-eyed viewers will catch visual nods to other iconic horror films like “The Omen,” suggesting “Origin of Evil” wasn’t just cobbled together to make a fast buck.

Unfortunately, that potential is wasted, and can only raise “Origin of Evil” a half-step above your routine jump-scare horror fodder. If you’re determined to head to the theater for a fright this Halloween, “Origin of Evil” will provide a scare or two. But you’d be a lot better off watching one of the real classics at home.

“Ouija: Origin of Evil” is rated PG-13 for disturbing images, terror and thematic elements; running time: 99 minutes.

Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photographer who appeared weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" from 2013 to 2016. He also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. Find him online at facebook.com/joshterryreviews.


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