Where can you find the origin of evil? Well, maybe at this year’s presidential debates, but also at the movies this weekend.
Two years ago, we got a horror film, Ouija, based on the board game of the same name, and it was not a particularly good film. The plot involved a group of friends using a Ouija board to make contact with a deceased friend, only to unleash a demon that proceeds to haunt and kill them off one by one. The film was boring and not in the least bit scary, and as a film based on a popular board game, it was even worse than Battleship. Given how bad Ouija was, a prequel seemed like a poor idea. So imagine my surprise to find that not only is the prequel better than the first film, it’s better by far.
Set in the 1960’s, about fifty years prior to the events of the first film, the plot of Origin of Evil involves a family struggling to make ends meet following the death of the father. The mother, Alice, makes extra income by performing fake séances with the assistance of her two daughters, Lena and Doris. Though they are technically scamming those who wish to connect with the dead, Alice tries to make sure to provide her clients with comforting thoughts about their deceased loved ones.
At the suggestion of Lena, Alice buys a Ouija board to use in her sessions, as well as to try to communicate with her late husband. When Doris tries out the board, strange things start to happen. Surprisingly, the board starts really connecting to the spirit world, and Alice’s customers are more than happy with their results. The Ouija board seems to be doing the family well, but all miracles come with a price. Doris starts to see a mysterious figure in the house, which takes possession of her body and begins to torment the household. It gets to the point where Alice brings their daughter’s Catholic school principal, Father Tom, to help rid the house of the evil spirit.
If you have already seen the first film, and I’m not saying you should, you can probably guess what direction this film might be heading in. This is problematic of many prequels, because you know how it is going to end, and who is going to make it or not. The best prequels are the ones that engross you so much into the story and characters, that you are distracted from the ending. Ouija: Origin of Evil fits right into that category. Unlike the first film, the characters here are given a solid backstory and a credible reason for why they continue to use the Ouija board, despite the problems it’s bringing. Because the backstory is strong, the dramatic moments are emotionally effective, and really make you care for the people involved, similar to this year’s Lights Out.
One of the problems the first film had was that the director, Stiles White, did not have any directing experience, and thus did not handle the scary moments well. For Origin of Evil, the producers brought on Mike Flanagan, who directed 2013’s Oculus, and he does a spectacular job here. Flanagan takes his time in setting up his scares, rather than just blindly putting them in, as, for example, in a scene where bed sheets are being pulled off by a spirit. The build up is slow and articulate, and the scare is well earned. Another example is when Doris looks through the oracle and sees a mysterious figure in the living room. Rather than initially jumping at the camera, the figure only slightly moves, as if it were blended into the background. Apparently, Flanagan took good notes while watching M. Night Shaymalan’s Signs.
Another area where Flanagan succeeds with this film is the look and feel of the time period. The set design, the wardrobe, and even the 60’s style Ouija board are dripping with nostalgia. The film even opens with the classic Universal Studios logo, and plays as if it were filmed in the 60’s, with cue marks appearing in the top right corner of the frame. Don’t be fooled, though, because it is not the theater’s projector. The end credits also have an interesting presentation, as if they are being viewed through the Ouija’s oracle as they scroll. All of these features and others made the film refreshing to watch, especially when compared to Ouija.
Ouija: Origin of Evil is the rare example of a prequel that exceeds its predecessor. Mike Flanagan was a great choice to direct this film, as it features better scares, a nostalgic feel, and spectacular performances from every actor involved. (The child playing Doris, in particular, gives an appropriately creepy performance.) At times, the story can be a bit too expository, particularly when Father Tom explains the origins of the spirit, but this is only a mild complaint. To see a series go from the bottom to the top in terms of quality is outstanding, and we can hopefully look forward to more. And to answer my earlier question, if you really want to see the origin of evil, you might just find it in Boo! A Madea Halloween. Trust me.
NOTE: Stay after the credits, because there is a post-credits scene that ties fairly well to the first film.