Review: Ouija: Origin of Evil
Creepy kids, the 'spirit world,' dead relatives. A lot of common horror tropes are trotted out here, but that's not to say the film is without merit. The horror genre has entered a sort of renaissance period in recent years--with films like Cabin In The Woods, It Follows and The Witch garnering widespread praise for inventive approaches to the horror narrative. Ouija: Origin of Evil is not that. It is a much more cookie cutter approach, but it still brings the fright in spots. Most of its appeal is built on my second favorite Doris of 2016, but the filmmaker's do their part as well and the result is a mildly satisfying horror experience.
The film starts with a home fortune teller, Alice Zander, who hosts séances where she and her daughters, Doris (played by Lulu Wilson) and Lina (played by Annalise Basso), dupe their customers into believing they are actually connecting with their dead relatives. They have this act down to a science and all is well until one night when Lina and a few friends get together to play Ouija. While that initial experience is spooky enough, the game eventually makes its way into the Zander house.
While things start out innocently enough, they eventually take a turn. Doris starts to use the board to try to communicate with her late father, tapping into forces beyond any of their control. When the spirits seem benevolent, the Zander family works the Ouija board into their séance scheme. This leads to things spiraling out of control as the spirits turn on them. Eventually, Lina enlists Father Tom (played by Henry Thomas), the principal at their parochial school, to help drive out the spirits who have now taken possession of her younger sister, Doris.
The film vacillates between pretty tense jump scares and some thoughtful family drama that does a decent enough job of creating well-rounded characters. If I had to guess, however, those elements probably originated in different minds. The film never seems like the result of one clear vision--constantly hanging on a note for a beat too long. There were several moments when the family's background story seemed like it would never lead to a horror movie. A dead dad, money issues, family business. While all were nice touches that helped make these characters feel more real, figuring out how to draw horror from even these moments would have likely yielded better results. In contrast with a film like The Conjuring 2, it never really figures out how to tell the well-rounded story it is going for.
Once the horror actually arrives, it's hard to be too enthusiastic about it. There are moments that are quite good in isolation, but the story doesn't really hold together. When the spirits go from good to evil, it is unclear why. Most of what works on the horror front is built upon Lulu Wilson's portrayal of Doris, who is at once likable and adorable and imminently creepy. That little else manifests as compellingly scary is a disappointment, but if you have relatively low expecations for horror, there's a chance you will find something to like here.
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