Although critically pilloried 2014s Ouija earned more than enough at the box office to ensure a follow up. This time the Hasbro game turned instrument of evil (like some demoniacally possessed Jumanji) gets a prequel set in the late 60s in Ouija: Origins Of Evil.
When a ouija board is brought into the Zander’s house, Doris (Lulu Wilson) soon finds she has the ability to communicate with the dead. Although her mother (Elizabeth Reaser) is delighted that her youngest has inherited her families connection with the spirit world, Doris’ sister Paulina (Annalise Basso) is more sceptical. As she seeks the aid of her school priest (Henry Thomas), an evil works through the board with plans of its own.
Most of Ouija: Origin Of Evil energy is spent in set up. After all it is a prequel and needs to lay the ground work and mythology for the for the first film. This is does solidly, giving us a good sense of period and character, laying the bones for the horror to follow. It just that despite this strong set up, and even a couple of genuinely frightful moments throughout the film, Ouija never lives up to this potential. Its ending refuses to bring enough fright and gore to justify the slow burn set up. The result is something that is solid, but not quiet rewarding enough on its own merit. It has little catharsis and the final act feels perfunctory and rushed.
Which is a bit of a shame, as there are a number of elements here that worthy of attention.
By having the Zander family earn their living through a spiritualist con game, it allows the script a decent leeway to discuss how the board works, and how it can be faked. These elements get some pay-off when genuinely supernatural events start to happen.
Despite a few small inconsistencies, it also makes the most out of its 60s setting, pitching this tale of supernatural evil against the background of the Space Race. It gives Oujia a great resonance, as if it is poised at a historical tipping point, moving from superstition to science.
Then there is Lulu Wilson. The young actress makes a stunning addition to the “creepy kid” horror trope. Cherubim when she needs to be, utterly terrifying at other moments, she owns the role of the demonic possessed Doris, with a vengeance. Even without special effects, her delivery is so chilling at times you understand why the cast back nervously away from her. Add dead white contact lenses, or a prosthetic jaw stretched to inhuman levels, and audiences are leaping out of their seats, shrieking.
However these moment are the exception, rather than the rule. There is much here that we have seen before, and the scares are a bit few and far between. A good effort that just doesn’t quiet bring enough to push it over the line to great.