I had heard that this prequel to Ouija was actually quite a good horror movie but I just couldn't bring myself to give it a watch before now. Yes, it was directed by Mike Flanagan, who also co-wrote the script with Jeff Howard, but it was a prequel to Ouija, which was just crap. I should have had faith, in both the people who advised me that I would enjoy this film and the talent of Flanagan (who hasn't done anything yet that I have really disliked).
Set in the 1960s, this is the tale of a widow (Lina Zander, played by Annalise Basso) and her two daughters (Alice, played by Elizabeth Reaser, and Doris, played by Lulu Wilson). Lina offers readings to people in order to make money, helped by her daughters (who hide away and help to create the effects that show contact has been made with the spirit world), and it looks like they can add to the whole performance when they find an old Ouija board. Unfortunately, they break a number of the golden rules, which lets an evil force into their lives, communicating to everyone through young Doris.
There are a number of jump scares here, and a number of absolutely predictable moments (one or two repeated from the first film), but Flanagan also knows how to just creep viewers out. Once the opening act of the movie is done, with characters established and the Ouija board made use of, things start to get freaky very quickly. And the scares are all the better because of being grounded in a film that feels close enough to something from at least a few decades ago. This may not be a 100% accurate period film but there are enough touches, from the opening credits to the appearance of the film (even including added "cigarette burns" for extra authenticity), to make it feel like something you would have caught in the early days of VHS.
The performances are all excellent, with Basso, Reaser, and Wilson wonderful in their individual turns and also as a strained family unit, and there's a fine supporting turn from Henry Thomas, playing a priest/teacher who helps the family figure out just how bad things are for them. Parker Mack may be the least of the central cast members, playing the young man, Mikey, who is forging a relationship with Alice, but he is also good in his role.
A couple of visual tricks may be overdone, although the white-eyed and gaping-mouthed look never stops being scary to me, and there's obviously the fact that those who watched the first film will know how things should play out, but none of that stops Ouija: Origin Of Evil being a surprisingly brilliant mainstream horror that manages to hit the beats that it has to while also providing a few hair-raising surprises along the way.
Although you can watch this, and enjoy it, by itself, I still grudgingly encourage others to watch the first film first, if only to give you more appreciation when you then see how Flanagan and Howard tied things together here.
You can buy the movie here.
Americans can buy it here.