Mike Flanagan’s Ouija: Origin of Evil, as you can already tell from the title, bears little originality. Using the ouija board as the source of horror, a means of blurring the line between the real world and the supernatural is one we’ve seen so many times before you can hardly believe anybody would still invest in such a property. Alas, they have – and the results are so terribly unsurprising; a little scary, sure, but completely hackneyed and cliched.
Set in 1967, we meet the widowed mother of two, Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser), who provides a comfort to those in mourning, pretending she has the ability to converse with the dead, using elaborate – and yet successful – props to convince desperate punters, involving both Paulina (Annalise Basso) and Doris (Lulu Wilson). But when they introduce a new aspect to their routine – a ouija board – the dark forces they invite into their home posses Doris, and while at first she appears to be channelling her deceased father’s spirit, it soon transpires there’s something much more maleficent at play, putting the lives of all three members of the family in severe jeopardy. So they do what any family seem to do in this situation: they call a priest (Henry Thomas).
The 60s setting informs the narrative well, as a genre that lends itself to a period setting, not just from a stylistic point of view, but also because it adds a sense of isolation to the protagonists, the inability to communicate so freely, no mobile phones to help them when in danger, no Google to research that of which they feel apprehensive about. The performances are impressive too, particular by Basso who excels as Paulina, tasked with carrying the film’s more emotionally charged sequences.
But her performance is undermined, persistently, by the film’s distinct lack of originality, ticking off the tropes of the genre in an unashamed fashion. Such as beginning with a family who make a living mimicking the art of a séance, a family who thrive in the notion of it being a big scam eventually becoming targets of the dark forces they ridicule. Then of course having the youngest member of the family (and a girl, of course) being the one taken over by the merciless spirit. There’s even a scene where she proceeds up the staircase in a freakish, inhumane manner – an affectionate nod to The Exorcist, and one that might have been endearing, had it not been in a film that seems to have borrowed nearly everything it offers from films already in existence.