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"OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL"
(2016) (Elizabeth Reaser, Annalisa Basso) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Horror: A widowed mother and her two daughters must contend with the evil unleashed by their use of a Ouija board.
PLOT:
It's 1967 and Alice Zander (ELIZABETH REASER) is the widowed mother of high school sophomore Lina (ANNALISE BASSO) and 9-year-old Doris (LULU WILSON). To make ends meet and following in her mother's footsteps, Alice has been making money as a medium, although she doesn't believe in the supernatural aspect of that. Instead, she believes she's serving the purpose of giving families closure and thinks the showmanship of faking supernatural events helps the bereaved buy into the presented "truth."

Things change, however, when she decides to add a Ouija board to her repertoire. While Alice doesn't believe in that any more than any of the other items at her disposal, Doris uses it and unleashes a demonic entity that starts to change her, something not lost on the girls' parochial school principal, Father Tom (HENRY THOMAS). It also becomes clear to Lina's new romantic interest, junior Mikey (PARKER MACK), who gets creepy vibes from Doris.

While Alice comes to believe that the board is actually contacting the dead, both Father Tom and Lina become increasingly concerned by its use and what it's doing to Doris, especially after a demon possesses the girl. From that point on, the family tries to deal with the increasingly spooky and dangerous situation.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
Considering how long they've been around and how they usually rely on the same or at least similar sorts of cinematic tricks to get the job done, it's hard to make a horror movie nowadays that feels completely original. Of course, there are some exceptions to that rule that do manage to finagle something new from the well-worn material.

And there are others that might utilize the various familiar genre tropes yet manage to imbue one degree or another of freshness into the proceedings to make everything work to get the goosebumps going, hairs on end, heartbeat racing, and/or apprehension levels increased.

The latter is the case with "Ouija: The Origin of Evil," the prequel to the 2014 horror film "Ouija." While sequels (or prequels) are usually (but not always) worse than the original picture that spawned them, this is one of those fairly rare instances where the second film in the series is noticeably better than the first offering.

And that's despite the pic -- from writer/director Mike Flanagan and co-writer Jeff Howard -- recycling elements from any number of previous horror flicks. First and foremost, we have the possessed child element where that young character type progresses from cute kid to demonic tyke due to channeling some sort of demonic entity. Despite that familiar element, Lulu Wilson plays the part quite well and delivers enough spooky moments (both of the outright creepy and somewhat fun-scary) to make that element work quite well.

Elizabeth Reaser plays her mother who's a fake medium and, shock of all shocks, comes to realize and then embrace that there is contact with the supernatural. And Annalise Basso plays her other daughter, a high school sophomore who's sweet on a slightly older boy (Parker Mack), but finds herself being the most concerned party in the family regarding such matters. Again, nothing new, but both bring enough nuance to their characters to make them feel fresh enough.

There's also the concerned priest who steps into action. Henry Thomas (of "E.T." fame -- playing Elliott) embodies that man of the cloth who was married before taking his oath, but beyond that little twist on the familiar possession related role, there's not much more to the character and related story elements that we haven't seen before.

Likely to no one's surprise, spooky stuff abounds in the basement (if not there, it probably would have been in the attic that gets a break here). That includes a hidden space behind a wall, all tied to some bad and nasty stuff that took place long ago at the hands of an abuser. Nothing new here either, but it's effective enough.

The film also naturally recycles some material from the first flick, including the board and its planchette operating on their own, and characters peering through the plastic lens of the latter to reveal spooky figures that can't otherwise be seen with the naked eye. That provides for some decent jump moments, but unlike other films of this ilk, it doesn't rely solely on that technique to "be scary."

So, in the end, there's little here that hasn't been seen or used before in any number of horror films. But all involved thankfully do just enough with said material to make it interesting or engaging enough that we don't mind. Is it a great horror pic? The Ouija board would likely point to "no," but if asked if it's a decent enough offering in the genre, it would easily slide over to the affirmative answer. "Ouija: Origin of Evil" rates as a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed October 18, 2016 / Posted October 21, 2016


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