I must confess: I adore seeing a newly released horror movie on a late October Friday night. It’s one of those macabrely sweet traditions that makes fall even more worth loving. So I was positively elated when I checked my local cinema’s schedule and found that Ouija: Origin of Evil was coming out Friday evening. Okay, pause, scratch that. Edit verbiage. I wasn’t positively elated. I was somewhat appreciative of an October horror movie release, but I wasn’t expecting a glistening performance. I mean, have you seen the first Ouija? If you haven’t, don’t bother. It was a cheesy Blumhouse bust (and, in general, I’m a fan of Blumhouse films). When Michael and I saw the first Ouija in theaters two years ago on Halloween night, our town experienced a sudden, broad-scale power outage that forced us to leave the movie before it was over. We were in no way devastated by this turn of events – although we did think a Halloween power outage was a little creepy – and chose to use our consolation free passes for a completely different film. In other words, I watched 65% of Ouija, never finished it, and couldn’t care less. But, I figured, if nothing else, Ouija: Origin of Evil was a horror movie on a fall night, and something to write about for my blog. Plus, on his twitter account Jason Blum proudly asserts that he thinks they “got it right this time,” with Origin of Evil, so I was at least a bit intrigued to see if he was feeding his fans a load of bullshit or if he could really make the sequel significantly better than the original.
Well, to summarize my post-movie stance on his assertion: he’s completely justified in claiming that they got it right. In fact, I would say they nailed it. It does what a lot of effective horror – and especially some of my Blumhouse faves – do. It starts with a sweet, lovable cast – usually a family – creates an interesting story with an intriguing plot, and then thrusts us not-so-gradually into the darkness, into the infinite abyss that is the grotesque, jump-scare horror movie. I mean, technically the abyss wasn’t infinite, because I’ve emerged unscathed and I’m here writing about it, but the noisy teenage girls behind me – when they weren’t inexplicably giggling over murder and possession or emitting spasmodic shrieks – were lamenting that the movie went on and on, and they hoped it would end, so to them it must have felt infinite. (As Michael has aptly noted, the rules of decorum that apply in your typical theater are irrelevant in free-for-all horror movies on debut night, especially PG-13 ones like Ouija: Origin of Evil that admit a younger crowd. I’ve found I have to acquiesce to the chaos and appreciate the way it augments the viewing experience, as opposed to lamenting the disorganized noise). While the girls behind me thought the film dragged on, I did not have the same experience; I thought the length was perfect, and the film came to an unexpected conclusion.
So here’s a little synopsis of the flick. Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser), and her two daughters, Lina and Doris (Annalise Basso and Lulu Wilson) are living together, and struggling financially, after the death of Alice’s husband (and the girls’ father). Alice runs a scam séance business which seeks to provide people closure by (falsely) contacting their lost loved ones and facilitating communication with them. She is at least semi well-intentioned (she wants to comfort her clients) albeit dishonest and not incredibly monetarily successful, until she buys a Ouija board – after Lina plays it with her friends and suggests the purchase. Doris, the youngest daughter (she’s 9) immediately displays an uncanny knack for communing with the dead, serving as a fragile vessel between the world of the living and the demimonde. Unfortunately for Doris – and the rest of the family – the principal of the girls’ school, Father Tom (Henry Thomas) deduces that Doris isn’t really communing with benign dead relatives. He believes she is unknowingly contacting evil. Alice (annoyingly) is hesitant to believe the possibility that Doris could be contacting unknown, perhaps malicious forces, despite Father Tom and Lina’s convincing. But ultimately Doris’s behavior makes the conclusion unavoidable. We learn, in fact, that by the middle of the movie, Doris – who displays a sequence of incredibly creepy gestures – no longer inhabits her body, per se. I will avoid discussing who does inhabit her body, but I can assure you, the backstory that leads up to her possession is about as bleak and twisted a story as one can contrive to explain a possession.
The characters, by and large, were well-developed and likable. Alice Zander, though often the right mixture of sweet and sassy, also frustrated me toward the middle of the film. After she believes Doris can commune with benevolent spirits, she frequently keeps Doris at home instead of sending her to school, to experiment with Doris’ newfound ability. Maybe I’m just narrow minded and stuffy, but I think I’d be more worried about my nine-year old’s education than her ability to transmit messages between the world of the living and the world of the dead, especially if there were any chance that she were in danger. And when Lina, the oldest daughter, begs Alice to believe that the spirits Doris speaks to are malevolent, Alice, at first, refuses to believe her. Again, a series of jarring events occur that make the conclusion inarguable, but Alice’s initial denial is aggravating. Once she does accept Father Tom’s conclusion, Father Tom, Alice, and Lina band together to save Doris and combat the insidious being – or beings – inhabiting her body. The film is consistently scary and disturbing from this point forward.
This movie, then, is ultimately a movie of possession, and in that way is not unlike an exorcism movie. For some reason, movies about possession never scare me. While it’s a part of the horror genre that Michael finds especially interesting (he is, after all, a theology teacher) I’ll take your run of the mill ghost story, or a well-done slasher flick, before I’ll take an exorcism movie, at least as a general rule of thumb. (Small spoiler to follow): But this movie, which never quite gets to the exorcism part of the process, is an incredibly jarring portrait of possession. Doris displays oddly cold but mature behavior well before the peak of her possession, and little tricks of the trade, like eyes that go blank, or the slight curve of a kitchen knife, are employed in just the right way to amplify the scare-factor and unsettling ambiance of the film. The movie shows us some candid visual depictions of evil, but often lets our imaginations do a lot of the work. As such, I found Ouija 2 sufficiently scary but not terrifying – a satisfying movie-going experience that kept me entertained without overwhelming me. I believe Michael was a bit more afraid than I was, however. I overheard him telling his mom on the phone that he’d never watch the film again, even though he thought it was interesting.
On the topic of Michael, he has had talks with his students about Ouija boards, séances, and other paranormal-esque activities. His firm stance is that we’re ill-equipped to try to talk to the dead, and the Ouija board is a manufactured version of spirit boards in ancient cultures that really did exist. His bottom line opinion: Don’t mess with that stuff. It may or may not surprise you to know that as a teenager, I, on the other hand, had a Ouija board. It featured into a number of slumber parties, and yes, I’m here to talk about it today – I never, to my knowledge, communicated with a legitimate spirit, much less a dangerous one. But that doesn’t mean I disagree with Michael’s stance. As human beings, I think we’re hubristic in a lot of ways. We think we’re stronger than we are, and stronger than the things beyond our control or the forces that be. As for myself, I do not know if I believe in a spirit world; it’s fun to contemplate but seems logically unlikely. And still, thinking of a bunch of giggling kids around a table, communing with spirits over a Ouija board, does seem a bit like indifferent human arrogance. Shoving ourselves into the world of the dead without an invitation, or mocking the board’s power and making a joke of the whole process, could well be a way of asking for trouble. I am a person who’s curious about the supernatural and drawn to things like séances and Ouija boards. But it does seem reasonable to assume, as Ouija: Origin of Evil rightly cautions, that if you’re traveling down that darkened path, you never know what you might find. And you might not be able to handle what you get.