The opening scene of Ouija: Origin Of Evil sees a horror movie cliche in full effect. A hopeful husband and his sceptical daughter attend a seance hosted by medium Alice (Elizabeth Reaser). The scene delicately builds without fanfare to a genuinely smart climax. And so Ouija: Origin Of Evil does too. Given this is the prequel to 2014’s Ouija, which was a bland boardgame cash-in, you would be right to approach Origin Of Evil like the sceptic in that opening scene.
The story then follows Alice’s daughter Doris (Lulu Wilson) who, thanks to her mother meddling with the wrong board game, finds herself possessed by a malevolent spirit. So far, so The Exorcist or The Conjuring or Insidious. You know, the whole haunted house thing that gradually reveals – dum, dum, dum: it’s the kid that’s haunted not the house.
But, like that opening scene, Origin Of Evil is a slowburn. It is unlike many modern, mainstream horrors in so far as it refuses to conform to just finding ways of making you jump. In the hands of Oculus and Absentia director Mike Flanagan it becomes something considerably better than the material has any right to be. It actually becomes chilling and interesting.
There is a moniker in screenwriting of ‘show don’t tell’ but what Ouija often does is quite the opposite. By not showing, like Spielberg did with a certain man eating fish, your imagination runs riot. The film avoids certain irritating aspects of the mother never believing the child is telling the truth, it means Flanagan is able to explore more character and mystery without ever being distracted.
Yes, the ending does descend into elements of cliche, Flanagan seemingly riffing on his own previous horror efforts, but it never stops making you gnaw your lip with fear. There is imagery here that you are familiar with but done so in a way that is both clever and deeply unsettling. The visuals of young Doris going all stairway to hell are particularly indelible.
A smart little horror that plays within its limits rather than rolling its dice to be anything bigger. Ouija: Origin Of Evil rarely breaks the mold but always keeps you interested in what’s going to materialise.