By Jeff Boudreaux
I have to admit that I was utterly shocked when I first glanced at the poster for this film in my local multiplex. How on Earth could a film as bad as 2014’s “Ouija” warrant a sequel? As it turns out, that three-year-old abomination of a collaboration between Universal Pictures, horror stalwarts Blumhouse Productions and yes, Hasbro, bears the distinction of being my lowest rated film ever. Now that doesn’t mean it was the worst film that I’ve ever seen, just the worst one in the two-and-a-half years that I have been reviewing film for the Delgado Dolphin! As time wore on, and I viewed the trailer, I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t a sequel after all but rather a fun-looking prequel that is set in the 1960’s (in retrospect, I realize that the film’s subtitle and the presence of a ‘60’s hairdo on young star Lulu Wilson should have been a dead giveaway on the aforementioned poster!)
Phony Los Angeles spiritualist Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser of “Twilight” fame) bilks old people out of cash, in order to support her two daughters – teenage Lina (Annalise Basso of “Captain Fantastic”) and Doris (Lulu Wilson), her youngest. You see, Alice isn’t a bad person, in fact, she really wants to help people connect with their dearly departed. That’s why she brings home a new prop for her séances – the fabulous Ouija board that’s captivating the nation! Unfortunately, she doesn’t really have a good track record of conjuring up benevolent spirits, and when Doris uses the board to contact her father, she’s overtaken by a demonic force. With the “help” of Father Tom (Henry Thomas), Alice and Lina must try to save Doris from the evil that lurks in their home, and uncover the secret of who the previous tenants were. Brace yourself, it’s a doozy!
I wanted to like this film, I really did. And truth be told, it is marginally better than its predecessor. But favored comparisons to one of the worst films of 2014 does not a good film make. What writer/director Mike Flanagan (“Oculus,” “Before I Wake”) obviously tried to fashion is, in fact, a juvenile carbon-copy of “The Conjuring 2,” and it just doesn’t hold up. There’s too many poorly-timed jump scares, long pauses that outright bore, and terribly-rendered CGI manifestations from what I like to call “gaping horror mouth” (seriously, why is this so popular in horror films?) to “ridiculously-sewed mouth” (Sorry Flanagan, Dee Snider did it much better in “Strangeland,” and I know that has to hurt!) Every two minutes I felt as if I was watching grand theft horror, with obvious rips from classics like “The Exorcist” and “Poltergeist.” And can I just say that Henry Thomas’s “Father Tom” has to be the most ineffectual priest that I’ve ever seen onscreen!? I kid you not, the role is actually played as if he’s a janitor secretly posing as a priest. How’re you supposed to get rid of demonic forces with that representation of faith? Ay-yay-yay.
Now, you may ask why I’m claiming that “Ouija: Origin of Evil” is an improvement on the 2014 film, while proceeding to rip it a proverbial “new one.” The answer is very simple. What Flanagan has managed to do is to create a movie for non-discerning horror fans, while throwing the more-seasoned genre aficionados a bone here and there. There are three particular things that I liked very much in this movie, the first one being the absolutely-wicked cover art for what was the very first Ouija board, predating its acquisition by Parker Brothers (remember them?) I also felt that the demons that manifested themselves in the film’s second half were quite creepy. To give you an idea of how frightening they looked, just picture Reggie Nalder’s vampire from “Salem’s Lot” if he were multiplied and burnt to a crisp. My absolute favorite part of the movie, and I have to tread lightly here so I don’t spoil the surprise, involves a deceased character reanimating to terrorize the Zander household where you least expect it, in a scene that’s both ridiculous and fantastic and believe me, that’s hard to do. Finally, the inclusion of Universal’s “classic logo” was simply lagniappe (the day you ever hear me complaining about a studio’s throwback is the day that I will have surely been body-snatched).
One thing I do have to take issue with is the consistent effort by Hollywood to treat its audience as having no semblance of reasoning skills whatsoever. Near the film’s end, I used my God-given power of deduction to connect an important character with their counterpart from the first film. I felt it was a quick glimpse of smart filmmaking, that is, until I and everyone else in attendance was beaten over the head with a blatantly unnecessary cameo after the film’s credits! An interesting exercise would be to contrast this show-your-hand style of filmmaking with the opening and closing scenes of James Schamus’s terrific “Indignation,” and see how a situational reveal is supposed to take place, in terms of poignancy as well as surprise. “Ouija: Origin of Evil” has neither. Yet, with absolutely nothing else in release that even remotely resembles horror, this movie is destined to be a hit this Halloween. That’s right, as terrible as my words make it sound, the public is still going to eat it up – as a multitude of hooping, hollering and screaming surrounded my ears on that Tuesday night in October. Good for them, I’m glad they enjoyed it. But for me, I think I’d rather revisit the Golden Age of Universal horror cinema, when men like Tod Browning and James Whale could actually scare the pants off of the most discerning of cinephiles.