I walked out of the latest Ouija film, Ouija: Origin of Evil, with sweaty palms and my hair standing on end. Later that night, it would also have me waking up and picturing doll-like girls standing just outside my peripheral vision. But the thing that really bothered me was that this film had gotten under my skin without being particularly original.
It was an okay, pretty good movie, but it wasn’t anything new. In fact, it was kind of impressive to me that despite its predecessor getting panned — it is currently rated 7 percent on Rotten Tomatoes — it got a follow-up.
To make money these days, Hollywood wants films to double down: action movies have to be blockbusters and dramas have to be Oscar contenders. But when it comes to horror, the stakes aren’t that high. So why does horror land this Get Out of Jail Free card? Why can it still make middling movies and only sometimes turn out a classic?
Ouija: Origin Of Evil And The B-Movie
Ouija: Origin of Evil sets up the events of the 2014Ouija film, going back 50 years to where everything went wrong for the Zander family. Doris Zander (Sierra Heuermann), her teenage sister Paulina (Annalise Basso) and their mother Alice (Elizabeth Reaser, who to me will forever be the lady from the ferry accident that Alex Karev falls in love with in Grey’s Anatomy) are making ends meet by holding fake seances for people wishing to contact their dead loved-ones. While Mother Dearest is ringmaster to the show, Doris and Paulina make the occult happen from hiding places in sideboards and behind curtains.
Oh, and there’s a dead dad who is introduced with blunt, lingering shots of photo frames. (Many of the plot points are introduced like this, like playing plot bingo.)
Understandably, this family is not making fat stacks tricking people and the household bills are piling up. Alice makes an impulse purchase of a ouija board to zhoosh up the routine for customers. Doris is promptly possessed by a spirit called Marcus. Doris is super chill about being a vessel. At first, her newfound chum is a helluvaguy who helps her with homework and hooks her family up with some cash hidden in the walls of their house. Their money problems are solved! Great! Movie done! Let’s go home! JK, that’s not the only thing hidden in the walls!
Marcus soon tires of doing long division and turns out to not be so chill. Soon after he’s got Doris bent over backwards like an over-enthusiastic yoga teacher helping you with Wheel Pose.
Mike Flanagan (Hush, Oculus and Absentia), who frequently co-writes his screenplays with a collaborator directed Ouija: Origin of Evil. His movies often have female leads (though usually all white), but it often feels that to make space for the women’s roles and to fuel their motivations, he has to explain the absence of a dude and their impact.
In Hush, Kate Siegel’s Maddie is constantly being questioned about her decision to live alone in the woods without a man for protection. In Ouija: Origin of Evil, their dead dad is still a heavy presence and influences the women’s actions. Yet, Flanagan’s men also tend to be bad guys, and the women are fighting back against the physical and metaphorical patriarchy. Come to think of it, Doris is a young girl whose body is literally possessed by an entitled dead dude…
Originally published 28th October, 2016.