By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
After disliking the first installment of this young franchise, I found it rather difficult not to go into this prequel with a negative attitude. Still, I did my best to check my attitude at the door and view this film with an open mind. Thankfully, this installment pleasantly surprised me. Written and directed by Mike Flanagan (Hush), who co-wrote with Jeff Howard, Ouija: Origin of Evil presents a much more interesting and compelling story than its predecessor and succeeds in delivering some genuine fright. The movie also can boast solid performances by the cast, particularly those of the young lead actresses.
Elizabeth Reaser, Annalise Basso, and Lulu Wilson star as the Zander family. The widowed mother Alice (Reaser), with the help of daughters Paulina (Basso) and Doris (Wilson), struggles to make ends meet and keep their family house by performing fraudulent seances for gullible clients. When Alice decides to upgrade the seance routine by including a Ouija board, the Zanders tap into a real supernatural realm. Missing her father dearly, Doris tries to communicate with him through the board, but inadvertently connects with a malicious spirit who possesses Doris and uses her to wreak havoc on the Zanders and the world of the living.
In my disparaging review of the first installment in this series, I challenged Hasbro Studios to do better. Now, I’m not at all sure they actually read or heard about my challenge, but Hasbro and Blumhouse must have realized and acknowledged the failures of the first film and did a much-needed overhaul. The new film offers a satisfying expansion of the Zander back story introduced in the first film, which is the most interesting aspect of that movie anyway. Though this new film does have a few corny moments and some continuity issues that don’t quite match what is shown in the other movie, it is still quite an improvement and revitalizes the potential for more and possibly better installments.
Flanagan, who shows his talents for suspense building and effective fright delivery in Hush, continues to make a positive impression on me with this film. The development of the Zander characters works well in building empathy and dread for their eventual fate. Working with a talented trio of actresses and talented actor Henry Thomas (Father Tom) makes a huge difference as well. Elizabeth Reaser performs wonderfully as Alice Zander, an actually likable and gracious swindler who does her seances out of desperation to provide for her family, and out of sympathy for the grieving. I was also impressed by Annalise Basso, who delivers a strong performance as teenager Paulina Zander, a young lady wise beyond her years and also one not to mince words. The actress who impressed me the most, though, is Lulu Wilson who gives an amazing performances as the youngest daughter Doris. She beautifully performs the dual roles of the troubled and grieving daughter in addition to the malevolent spirit that possesses her. She definitely scared the hell out of me in certain key moments.
And that’s what most people want from a horror film–an engrossing story, great performances, tension, and genuine fright. This movie does have some flaws, but that shouldn’t deter people from giving it a chance. It is a refreshing and surprising rectification for the terrible first installment, and allows Blumhouse and Hasbro another opportunity for expansion on this potentially fascinating and scary movie universe. I think it would make for a fun and delightfully scary good matinee at your favorite cinema.