Los Angeles, 1967. Widow Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) buys a ouija board to use in her bogus spiritualist act, and her daughter Doris (Lulu Wilson) contacts restless, perhaps-malign spirits who haunt their home. Lina (Annalise Basso), Doris’s older sister, tries to defend the family from supernatural evil.
With Ouija, Hasbro (Transformers, G.I. Joe and, um, Battleship) tried to spin a film franchise out of one of the odder items in their Intellectual Property catalogue. Somehow suggesting that a novelty spiritualist board game invites evil spirits to haunt, possess or murder customers wasn’t deemed bad for business. The result was a formula spook picture which nevertheless became a modest box office hit.
Writer-director Mike Flanagan crafts a much-improved follow-up.
Turning out a period-set Ouija prequel (on the model of Annabelle) might not seem a promising project, but writer-director Mike Flanagan crafts a much-improved follow-up. Origin Of Evil hits all the mandatory ghost-story marks and elaborates intelligently on the storyline of the first movie, but is a surprisingly personal work and not at all out of place in Flanagan’s interesting filmography (Absentia, Oculus, Hush). He is very strong on family relationships strained by supernatural or psychopathic circumstances, and this gets a lot out of its talented cast.
Redheaded Basso (Captain Fantastic) is an unusual teenage heroine, a sceptic in a family of believers, while blonde Wilson is simultaneously angelic and creepy (with a touch of CGI to give her a cavernous mouth) as the imperilled/possessed sister. Henry Thomas (E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial) is interesting as a slightly ambiguous priest who helps ferret out the backstory — which leaves enough untold to be explored in future sequels — and nudges the family into the basement for the climax.
With engaging characters, a decent mystery and well-realised scares, this makes a satisfying Hallowe’en attraction. Even if you skipped Ouija, give this one a chance.