I love horror movies, though I can’t help feeling like they chose me. Growing up named Jason, I never went too long without being asked something stupid about a hockey mask. Still, the feeble and frequent jokes piqued my curiosity. I saw good and bad slasher flicks younger than I probably should have (thanks, HBO). Though the slashers have long been my favorite, I still appreciate a good ghost story. Movies with masked maniacs often lack subtlety, I’m looking at you Freddy Krueger. Ouija: Origin of Evil makes subtle scary, ratcheting up the danger and suspense along the way.
Origin of Evil is a prequel to the 2014 surprise hit Ouija. Full disclosure, I never saw the original. I’m guessing anyone who has seen it might have been a couple steps ahead of me as the plot unfolded. Origin tells the story of how a Ouija board came to be imbued with malevolent power, ultimately leading to the events of the first film, in which a group of friends tangle with the evil game. Set in 1967, the film follows widowed mother Alice (Elizabeth Reaser) and her daughters Paulina (Annalise Basso) and Doris (Lulu Wilson) struggling to make ends meet with a séance scam. When Alice adds a Ouija board to her act, the board for the first time calls upon actual spirits.
This movie worked for me because it is super-creepy. The evil child plot device doesn’t break any new ground, but it doesn’t matter. Seeing evil manifested in a child is a disturbing and effective horror gimmick. This movie carries a PG13 rating, so scary stuff can’t come from piling up the bodies like so many R rated examples of the genre. This is probably the kind of horror movie I should have been watching as a kid; it’s scary, but not gruesome. The overall tone works too. The movie incorporates just enough humor at the start to contrast the dark descent that follows.
One of the sins for which I have a hard time forgiving many horror movies is pacing that is too slow for audiences to care about the characters or what’s happening to them. To its credit, Origin’s pacing works well. Striking a balance between developing the characters and plunging them into danger, the mix feels about right. We get to know these characters just enough to care whether something bad happens to them. Like most horror movies, this one has its share of obligatory “boo” moments, when startling the audience passes for scaring them. Luckily, director Mike Flanagan doesn’t overdo it, wisely opting instead to double down on creepy.
Despite being a movie about a board game, the movie works because it’s more fun to believe that talking to the dead might be possible. As fun as this movie is, some elements seemed just a touch off. When Alice (Reaser) goes on what might be a date with a priest (Henry Thomas), it’s a little odd, for example. Adding romantic tension between those two characters feels forced. That notwithstanding, Lulu Wilson, who plays Doris, gives a performance that buoys this movie. As much as I enjoyed Origin, I’m not giving up on the gory stuff anytime soon. After all, I’ve got a name to live up to.