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New Release Review - OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL

Prequel to the 2014 screen adaptation of the cult Hasbro board game.






Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Mike Flanagan

Starring: Henry Thomas, Elizabeth Reaser, Lulu Wilson, Doug Jones, Annalise Basso



With director Mike Flanagan at the helm, hopes will be quite high among horror fans for this sequel, but there's little of the skill he displayed in this year's straight to Netflix thriller Hush evidenced here.



Scores of horror movies have employed the Ouija board as a plot device, usually referring to it by another name so as not to incur a lawsuit from Hasbro, the game's creator and copyright holder. In 2014, Hasbro decided they might as well cash in on their asset, and so we got the first ever official Ouija movie.

In that movie, the teen protagonists behaved as though they had never heard of the board game before, yet in this 1967 set prequel, the game is presented as the mass marketed product it really is. The '60s setting, no doubt inspired by the popularity of James Wan's blockbuster period franchise The Conjuring, is played up from the first second, with the film opening with that era's Universal logo, followed by an old school title card complete with copyright details. In the style of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's Grindhouse, artificial cigarette burns pop up onscreen at the points where a film projectionist would have changed reels. This touch would have no doubt proved distracting, had I been remotely involved in the events of the film.



The first movie featured a demon by the not so scary name of Doris, and this prequel introduces us to her as a child (Lulu Wilson, who looks a lot like a shrunken Reese Witherspoon), the daughter of fake medium Alice (Elizabeth Reaser), a single mother who struggles to make a living conning bereaved punters with the aid of Doris and her teenage daughter Paulina (Captain Fantastic's Annalise Basso).

When Paulina brings home a Ouija board, initially the trio implement it as just another prop in their morally shady family business, but Doris begins to genuinely communicate with malevolent spirits, one of which she can visualise when looking through the lens of the game's planchette, and which looks for all the world like the gimp from Pulp Fiction.



When Doris begins scribbling in Polish, Paulina seeks the aid of the headmaster at her Catholic high school, Father Tom (Henry Thomas). Of all the men of the cloth to appear in horror cinema, Tom might be the most ineffectual, at one point confessing, "I'm no expert in the occult." Really? Isn't that part of the job description?

Tom's role in all this is pretty puzzling. Initially, the film appears to set him up as a love interest for Alice - the two go on a dinner date, with Alice turning up clad in a cleavage revealing mini-dress, yet none of the other diners bat an eyelid; I know 1967 was a more liberal time, but come on! - until it suddenly remembers he's a Catholic priest for God's sake!



With director Mike Flanagan at the helm, hopes will be quite high among horror fans for this sequel, but there's little of the skill he displayed in this year's straight to Netflix thriller Hush evidenced here. Though not entirely successful due to a lack of substance, that movie proved Flanagan quite adept at building tension and suspense, but here he relies on jump scares accompanied by loud screeches and bangs, just like almost every other mainstream Hollywood horror of the last decade. Once again, Munchian stretched mouths and milky pupils make their obligatory but unwanted appearance.

Some of the jump scares aren't even built up to, simply thrown in arbitrarily at the most oddly random points. I've often wondered if jump scares are studio mandated - surely a filmmaker like Flanagan can dispense with such gimmicks? - and they've rarely felt so much like a product of the editing room as they do here. Lin Shaye is listed on IMDB as having a returning role here, but she's nowhere to be seen in the final cut, which suggests there's another version of Ouija: Origin of Evil out there. I can only assume it's a superior one, as horror doesn't get much worse than this. Once again I'm afraid it's a 'Non-Nein' for 'Oui-Ja'.

Ouija: Origin of Evil is in cinemas October 21st.






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