OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL
While I never saw the original “Ouija” film to draw my own conclusions, the consensus was pretty clear that the film was a turgid mess. From the trailers, I was able to determine that this looked like a terrible cookie cutter Hollywood horror film, that appeared to lack creativity and apparently scares. When the reviews started pouring in, my assumptions appeared to be correct, as it was almost universally hated, however, it still did well enough at the box office to garner a sequel; a sequel no one was clamouring for.
This was something I paid no attention to until it was announced that the director of the sequel was to be Mike Flanagan. Flanagan is an up and coming horror director that showed off his directorial muscles with his low budget indie film “Absentia”. Making a lot out of very little, it was clear that this guy had talent, which he then backed up with his haunted mirror film “Oculus”. His next film to be released was supposed to be “Before I Wake”, which again from the trailer looked fantastic, however the bankruptcy of Relativity (the studio who made the film) sadly left that film in limbo. It was around this time that the news of Flanagan being attached to the “Ouija” sequel hit, and if I'm honest, my heart sank when I read it. I found it sad that a talent such as he, had been sucked into such a lame property; a film no one wanted and destined to be a failure. All this negativity disappeared as soon as the first trailer was released. I was floored by it; not only did it look great, creepy and very atmospheric, but it was suddenly a film I needed to see. It also seemed to have no relation to the previous film's story which I gathered could only be a positive.
As soon as the film came out here in Australia, I went to see it (sadly though, I was the only person in the screening) and I ended up coming out of the film very impressed by it. I must say that I have a big issue with Ouija boards in the first place, as I find that they always come across looking very silly and never scary, instead the whole thing feels just ridiculous. Flanagan did an amazing job of using the Ouija board to create a chilling atmosphere as he tells his story of possession. My favourite aspect of the film was the look of it. The fact that the film is set in the 60's just added a whole different dimension to it all and I thought that the production detail in both the sets and the costumes were exemplary. Something that Flanagan is very good at, and continues to get better at with every film he makes, is his camera movements and compositions, as well as using different in camera techniques such as the split diopter, to tell his stories with as much energy as possible. I also loved the colour pallet used for the film with it bathed in soft yellows and browns, almost like the film was a moving old sepia toned photo. Also, although the film was shot digitally, the whole thing has been disguised as if shot on film, complete with fake “cigarette burns” at each “reel change”, which was another nice touch.
Something that I have noticed with all of this films is that Flanagan allows his stories to breathe. He takes his time introducing his characters, letting us to get to know them, while adding horror elements slowly until it all unravels towards the end and we are sweating, short of breath because we care about these characters and are terrified for them. This is exactly how he structures “Ouija: Origin of Evil” and it pays off big time. It takes a long time before the film's first legitimate scare, but by then we are so used to and familiar with these characters that the moment actually means something. From that moment on the suspense just continually builds and I thought the whole thing worked beautifully.
It is obvious that Mike Flanagan did not just treat this as a silly throw away movie; he has treated it with respect and delivered in every area to create a film that no one thought had any chance of being good. It is superbly acted, beautifully paced and shot and amazingly, was actually scary. No, it is not a perfect film, as not all of the CGI is great and for a film about the spirit of dead Nazi's, the Nazi angle was kind of wasted and underwritten. I have also seen people complain that Flanagan is aping James Wan's style from his “The Conjuring” films, but I do not believe this myself and if that is the case, he is a smart man to be stealing/learning from the current king of horror film making in the US. One final note, that may be a spoiler, is that the film turns out to actually be a prequel to the first “Ouija” film.
Anyway, “Ouija: Origin of Evil” turned out to be a wonderful surprise, but it turns out that it wasn't the best film Mike Flanagan made in 2016.