Sunday 30 October 2016

Film Review: Ouija - Origin of Evil

Ouija: Origin of Evil is another horror movie about ancient spirits and creepy kids speaking in tongues - but wait a second, could this one actually be good?

Back in 2014 the first Ouija film arrived to almost universal critical disdain, but a healthy return on its $5 million budget all but ensured that another movie was on the way.

Even though I never bothered with the first Ouija film (8% of Rotten Tomatoes was the first red flag), I quite enjoyed this prequel. It's more of less a standalone movie whilst also joining together a few dots for fans of the first film.

Origin of Evil doesn't reinvent the wheel so to speak; the possession/exorcism formula is played out exactly as you'd expect and all the horror hallmarks are accounted for. You know the drill; a demon is praying on an innocent little girl who then starts to speak in tongues and climb the walls. Except this time the gimmick isn't found footage or some micro-budget filmmaking method - it's just a solid slice of supernatural spookiness that crafts some genuine scares through competent camerawork, editing and cinematography.

Elizabeth Reaser plays Alice Zander, the struggling single mother who starts to fear the side effects of adding a Ouija board to her suburban savant routine. Reaser's performance is what holds the film together; Lulu Wilson is also astoundingly creepy as the possessed daughter Doris but Reaser stood out for me. Annalise Basso (who also featured in Captain Fantastic a few months back) was pretty good as Lina as well, the eldest child who is initially skeptical of the new Ouija board.

The film also relies on a handful of genre pratfalls that grind my gears - notably doors that randomly lock for unexplained reasons and light bulbs that burst without explanation. Next you'll be telling me that the house is built on a Native American burial ground - oh, it's something kinda similar? Well, isn't that a shocker.

If it sounds like I'm being kind of cynical, I apologise. I genuinely did like Origin of Evil and think that it's a really solid frightener that should make a buttload of cash this time of year. That doesn't change the fact that the film is relatively easy to suss out and uses all the same tricks that we've seen a million times before - but credit where it's due, Flanagan isn't here to play parlour games. He pushes that M rating as far as it will stretch by crafting a tense and atmospheric horror that is genuinely scary at times. A slight overabundance of CGI when practical effects and make-up would've felt more authentic is my only other quibble.

Something that I really did like was Flanagan's use of retro filmmaking motifs to capture the mood of the period setting; from the classic Universal logo at the start to the spooky title card overlaid over the film during the opening scene. The film even has those flickering black scorch marks in the corner of the frame to tell the projectionist when to change reels. They're just for show, but the thought is nice and adds to the aesthetic.

The Verdict: 6.5/10

We've been here before but that doesn't stop Ouija: Origin of Evil from delivering some genuinely creepy chills. The retro motifs employed by Flanagan are a nice touch too. Cheap matinee price is the way to go for this one.

Ouija: Origin of Evil is in cinemas across Australia now

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