Origin of Evil: Hasbro film is not playing around

Craig Watkins, Crier Staff

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Ouija: Origin of Evil feels like a culmination of horror films before it. Its conflict begins like The Exorcist; its camera movements are reminiscent of The Evil Dead; it has a creepy child straight out of The Omen; but the best is what it shares with Dawn of the Dead: it sharply departs from its first film and does not look back.

Origin of Evil requires no knowledge of 2014’s underwhelming Ouija to fully appreciate. Set in 1965, Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) is a fake spirit medium who uses tricks to convince her clients that their passed loved ones are okay, but the business is not enough to pay her bills. Her oldest daughter Paulina (Annalise Basso) suggests incorporating a Ouija board into the act, which youngest daughter Doris (Lulu Wilson) uses to speak with her deceased father. After learning that the board works, Alice makes Doris give her clients real messages from the dead, with the cost being that Doris becomes more and more controlled by the spirits each time. If you haven’t seen the first Ouija, start with this one to avoid having the ending ruined.

Despite belonging to an abysmal line of films based on Hasbro trademarks, Origin of Evil is quite a good movie that rarely disappoints. Many throwback horror flicks start out with a classic setting but quickly devolve into today’s tropes. This one does the opposite, opening with a Cabin in the Woods sense of modernity and self-awareness that slowly but surely grows into its ’60s vibe.

Subtlety is Origin’s strength, which writer-director Mike Flanagan handles well through much of the film. There are still a handful of creepy images and loud bumps to keep the audience’s attention, but these are nowhere close to as frightening as the scenes where the grotesque is kept just out of view.

The best word to describe the majority of the film is graceful. The camera floats and spirals around the set pieces, and the sparse score is haunting yet never intrusive, a rarity even in the most carefully made horror films. Some of the scares appear out of focus or in odd parts of the screen with no fanfare and barely being able to catch them, which is more unnerving than having them jump out.

The most pleasing subject to watch is the Ouija board itself. The planchette often moves on its own, but these shots are never startling. It moves smoothly at a hurried pace accompanied by a light, non-abrasive scratching sound. The board is hypnotic, because it just seems so nice, which is absolutely the most sinister thing in this entire movie.

In the narrative, the three leading ladies dominate. Each of the main characters is flawed, but the performers make them worth rooting for, especially Basso’s Lina. Young Doris generally seems too innocent for a girl who lets ghosts speak through her mouth and write with her hand, but there are a few highlights where Wilson is genuinely frightening. The minor characters are one dimensional, but they never get scenes of their own and serve their purpose as haunted house fodder.

It takes a while to get there, but Origin does start to feel like an older movie than it is. This goes beyond the outdated Universal logo and film reel cue dots (which are cute touches) and more in how the reason for all the spookiness is told to the audience.

All of the big reveals occur just before or during the final act rather than gradually building up. The casual viewer might find it frustrating that very little is explained until the last half hour when they are bombarded by exposition amidst the climax, but genre fans will feel right at home with the plot organization, used in classics like A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Ultimately, it is the pace and plot structure that will divide people on whether or not they like the film. Origin will mostly resonate with those who can sit through a marathon of scary movies from decades past if they can overlook the occasional modern explicitness.

Though not terribly unique and sometimes caught between a classic tribute and a modern screamfest, Ouija: Origin of Evil’s undeniable finesse behind every aspect of production carries it as a chilling and surprisingly pretty movie.

Spirits, I ask you to rate this film on a scale of 1-10. The planchette moves and rests on 8…