Starring: Elizabeth Reaser, Lulu Wilson, Annalise Basso
Directed by: Mike Flanagan (“Oculus”)
Written by: Mike Flanagan (“Hush”) and Josh Howard (“Before I Wake”)
I firmly don’t believe in the paranormal, and think it’s patently ridiculous that any mass-market product made by a toy company could possibly channel the undead. That’s why I’ve never been scared of an ouija board—it has a barcode on it, and the new ones even need batteries. What does a spirit need with batteries anyway?
Still, the brand has value and Hasbro, the toy giant behind such cinematic masterpieces as “Transformers” and “Battleship,” holds the licensing rights and someone at the company though “sure, why the hell not?” when it came to adapting the parlor game into a movie.
Just before Halloween in 2014 we got “Ouija” and it was awful. Two years later, we’re treated to the prequel, “Ouija: Origin of Evil” and, in spite of the previous effort and the fact it’s based on a board game that pretends to be a tool of dark magic, it’s actually not too bad.
Set in 1967 Los Angeles, a widow named Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) conducts séances in her home, setting up the illusion of supernatural powers with the help of her two daughters, Paulina (Annalise Basso) and Doris (Lulu Wilson). Sharp-eyed fans who loved (or even remember) the first film may recognize the names of the sisters from the backstory recounted in the present day, but don’t worry, you don’t need any prior knowledge of that piece of shit movie.
Anyway, after Paulina sneaks out of the house to hang out with friends and play with an Ouija board, the sisters suggest to Alice that one of the games might spice up the readings for clients. When Doris tries to use the board alone to contact her late father, a dark spirit inhabits her, allowing her to command the board with her mind and seemingly talk to the dead—which Alice immediately uses to her advantage to gain new business. But when frightening things start happening, Paulina reaches out to her Catholic school principal Father Tom (Henry Thomas!) for help in taking down the evil that’s haunting her family.
The ‘60s setting and low-rent con artist racket that Alice runs with her girls add immediate flavor to a premise that is, ultimately, just another haunted house story with an Ouija board in the mix to make good on the licensing. Still, it’s a story fairly well told, even if some of Alice’s choices, like the one to exploit her daughter’s obviously chilling new ability, never really make sense and the climax moves forward with little regard for anything other than getting to the point where the backstory in the first movie (which, again, who the hell remembers that?) lines up with what has happened on the screen. Maybe this new-found quality will be further explored in a Magic 8-ball spin off in a few years. Outlook not so good.