Horror movies are a fascinating genre. They are extremely broad in scope and approach, thereby having the chance to appeal to an extremely broad audience. I have seen a wide variety of horror films over the past two years, ranging anywhere from stories that deal with tragedy, to those that are just terribly bad, the bulk of the latter having come from major studios. Because of that I went in to Ouija: Origin of Evil with a bit of trepidation.
I was glad to be, for the most part, proven wrong.
The tone of this film, when it starts, is deceiving at best. While most horror films today use unusual color palates to create an atmosphere of unease and even dread, Ouija actually opens with warm colors on a sunny day. Even the music is light and almost friendly, as if you were watching a DreamWorks movie. It “welcomes” you in, much like are leading characters, a family of three, welcome people in to their home as they perform séances. The family consists of the mother, Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser), her oldest daughter, Lina (Annalise Basso), and her youngest daughter Doris (Lulu Wilson). They perform séances because the mother believes she is providing a service for people who need closure. While her true motivation is never really discussed, it is heavily implied that she does this because she is a widow, and perhaps has not received the closure she so desperately needs to heal and move on. She has her daughters help with the gimmicks that are needed to trick people into believing that sessions are real. Everything appears to be harmless until the mother comes into possession of a Ouija board, and that is when mysterious happenings begin to occur. Doris appears to be sensitive to the spirits that are summoned by the Ouija board, and for a time, Doris is ostensibly the conduit in which customers can truly speak to their departed loved ones. However, as with all horror films, the truth is always far more sinister.
What makes this movie so enjoyable is that it doesn’t rely on the tropes that have become such mainstays in present day, big budget horror films. The real “horror” in this movie is from watching what is happening to Doris. She innocently believes that she is helping her mother by being a medium, but ends up becoming a victim of some dark forces in the house. The story takes its time by slowly increasing the tension through creepy scenes and dialogue, instead of having ghosts jump out purely for the sake of cheap scares. Even when the threat is fully manifested, it is told through well developed and perfectly paced scenes that kept practically everyone in the theater on the edge of their seats.
If there is a downside to this movie, it is in the last 20 or so minutes, where all of the well used storytelling techniques are abandoned for more of the cheap scares that have been such a mainstay in modern horror. While I did not care for this during my initial viewing, I was rewarded by one final moment in the movie that turned all of that around. It did not completely change my feelings on why the movie went in this direction, but it allowed me to better understand the reasoning behind it.
The movie has a decently sized cast, but it’s the actresses who make up the Zander family that sell this. Elizabeth Reaser as the mother delivers some wonderful subtext and layers to her character. Even veteran actor Henry Thomas (E.T.) as Father Tom (the priest of the Catholic school the daughters attend) gives a competent performance. It felt a bit restrained, and given what type of acting chops he has shown I was hoping for something a bit more “natural” in his performance.
Top awards must go to Lulu Wilson and Annalise Basso as Doris and Lina Zander. Lulu’s performance of a demonically possessed girl is so charmingly focused that the last time a child actor unnerved me this much was while watching Village of the Damned. Even when she smiled and spoke in a friendly manner, it was done so with a more than a hint of malevolence behind it. Then there is Annalise. While she starts off as the typical angst-filled teenager, by the time you reach the end of this film you believe that her world has been turned upside down in a way that will leave her changed for the rest of her life.
Lastly, this movie is a prequel. While it can stand on its own, it is best to go in at least knowing that there is another story out there. In 2014 there was a movie simply titled Ouija. I mention this because there is one final post-credits scene that I was lucky enough to see during this screening, and even though I had not seen the 2014 film, seeing this final scene at the very end of the movie quite literally put all of the pieces together for me.
This movie is part Ghost Story and part The Exorcist, and while there are a few cliché moments, this movie presented itself as something of a throwback to a simpler time. Basically, if Steven Spielberg himself had decided to remake Poltergeist today, I think it would look like Ouija: Origin of Evil!
Special thanks to Fingerpaint for allowing Two Gay Geeks to be present for this screening.
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