[Early Review] [31 Days of Horror 3] Day 18 – Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)

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Director: Mike Flanagan

Cast: Elizabeth Reaser, Lulu Wilson, Annalise Basso, Henry Thomas, Kate Siegel, Doug Jones, Alexis G. Zall

Screenplay: Mike Flanagan, Jeff Howard

99 mins. Rated PG-13 for disturbing images, terror and thematic elements.

 

Good evening folks, tonight I was privileged to have been invited to an advance screening for the upcoming release Ouija: Origin of Evil. Now, as many of you know, I wasn’t big on the original Ouija, but I went in with an open mind ready to embrace the fear. Now, did this sequel bring me in? Let’s take a look.

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This prequel follows the Zander family: mother Alice (Elizabeth Reaser, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2, Hello My Name is Doris), eldest daughter Paulina (Annalise Basso, TV’s Cold, Captain Fantastic), and youngest Doris (Lulu Wilson, TV’s The Millers, Deliver Us From Evil). The Zanders run a faux seance scam out of their home. In an effort to increase the spectacle, Alice purchases a Ouija board from a local shop, and Doris immediately makes a connection to it. But her constant use of the board leads to frightening changes in her personality as seen through the eyes of Paulina and Father Tom (Henry Thomas, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Dear John), the Principal of the local Catholic school. Then, people start dying, and all eyes are on Doris, but she couldn’t possibly be causing it, right?

Let’s talk about how this installment adds to the larger mythos of the Ouija franchise. In all fairness, I’m actually surprised by how well it ties to the original but also how it forges a new path. It does really feel like the filmmakers, specifically Director Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Hush), seemed to have taken the feedback for the first film and attempted to right the ship.

That being said, this movie has so many convoluted plot points and story pieces that, by the end of the film, it completely devolves, which is sad, but also not surprising considering I felt the same way about Flanagan’s 2013 film Oculus. The plot thread moves along fine enough for the first hour, but when the pieces start falling together, the film falls to pieces.

And then there’s the issue of the Ouija board. As the first film kind of devolved into a pretty lame ghost story, this prequel eventually becomes a mess of possessions and slashers and doesn’t do any of it particularly well. I wanted to like it, and there are elements that shine, but the Ouija board could’ve been removed from both films without changing the story one bit.

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Flanagan’s visuals occasionally shine through, and the film’s pace isn’t bad, but this outing feels like it took too much from other horror films that have been here before and done it better. I saw pieces of Insidious, The Conjuring, and The Exorcist here, and none of it done in a particularly memorable way. I’m glad that Ouija: Origin of Evil is a major step in the right direction, but the ending feels like it was forced to fit a certain way to match the first film, and in doing so, the story is badly damaged and crashes to the ground. On a budget of $6 million, I have no doubt that there will be a Ouija 3, so let’s hope they continue to make progress with this series.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Stiles White’s Ouija, click here.

For my review of Mike Flanagan’s Oculus, click here.

Oculus (2013)

Oculus

Director: Mike Flanagan.

Cast: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Rory Cochrane, Katee Sackhoff.

Screenplay: Mike Flanagan, Jeff Howard.

103 mins. Rated R for terror, violence, some disturbing images and brief language.

 

I was pretty excited to see Oculus recently. I truly enjoyed director Mike Flanagan’s previous work in Absentia (I saw the premiere at the Fargo Film Festival back in 2011), and I wanted to see where he take us next when he had a bigger budget and more room to play. Unfortunately, I spent most of Oculus arguing with myself over whether I was enjoying myself or not. Not ever a really good sign. It felt to me like a film that was trying to confuse its audience so they wouldn’t see all the ridiculous plot points for what they really were.

Oculus tells the story of Kaylie Russell (Karen Gillan, TV’s Doctor Who), who is trying to prove to her brother, Tim (Brenton Thwaites), that the reason their parents went insane several years ago was because of a haunted mirror. Initially, thoughts went through my head about the previous horror film Mirrors, a decent effort from director Alexandre Aja. Sadly, this film falls flat even after a pretty fantastic opening setup.

The film plays out in two timelines simultaneous, one with Kaylie and Tim as children, the other years later as adults. Playing them against each other proves pretty interesting, except at the end when the timelines devolve into a confusing, jumbled and ultimately, disappointingly predictable finale.

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Oculus does a great job setting the events of the film into motion. We are given a solid premise and even rules to govern the journey we are going on as Kaylie describes exactly how she plans on proving the mirror’s intentions of evil and how she planned on destroying it. Soon after, however, the film departs from these rules and chooses to never reference them again.

I also had a problem with the mirror’s motivations. Okay, I get it, that sounds silly, but in any horror film, you have to get what the killer or monster’s motivations are or what the hell does it matter? Michael Myers was trying to kill all his relatives. Jason Voorhees was the closest thing to birth control for Crystal Lake, hacking and slashing his way through teens as vengeance for his dead mother. Freddy Krueger was also all about revenge, and Chucky the killer doll just wanted out of his plastic body. Oculus’ mirror, however, plays tricks on people. Some of them are meant to maim or kill, but other times, it plays out like a violent joke. One such scene, where the mirror leads Kaylie to believe that she has bitten into a light bulb gets us to see that it was only an apple. Why would a mirror do that? Wouldn’t the opposite be much more terrifying and gruesome?

This’ll sound funny as well, but I didn’t feel like the mirror was a well-built character. It didn’t have enough presence in the film. For all we know, it could’ve been a haunted oven or house or pretty much anything. It didn’t really use its reflection to terrorize. There was nothing to tell us the mirror was really behind anything. Its backstory kind of disappointed as well. If this becomes a franchise, I would like to see it explored much more.

The performances were fine, especially from Gillan and Annalise Basso (Bedtime Stories) who play adult and young Kaylie, respectively. Katee Sackhoff (TV’s Battlestar Galactica, Riddick) and Rory Cochrane (Argo, Parkland) do respectable work as Russell parents Marie and Alan.

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I’ve heard a lot of reports that Oculus may be looking at becoming a franchise, and if so, it has some digging to do before it reaches a status worthy of yearly trips to the movie theater.  I see potential, and there were a few great moments about this film, but all in all, I drove home from the movie not angry, but disappointed, and in the end, isn’t that worse?

Have you seen Oculus? What did you think? Comment below.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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