Doris (Lulu Wilson) is a 9-year-old in a 1967 household where a harmless-seeming Ouija
board slowly wreaks havoc. Doris’s mother (Elizabeth Reaser), who has
been trying to make a living as a fortune teller since her husband died,
decides to incorporate a Ouija board into her fake routine, but soon
the board starts calling to Doris, and all hell breaks loose.
It begins peaceful and playful enough in the Zander’s living room, Los
Angeles, 1967, where it’s business as usual. In their case, the business
is a séance scam run by widowed mom Alice (Elizabeth Reaser, “Young
Adult”) and her two daughters, Doris (Lulu Wilson) and
Paulina (Annalise Basso). Naive (but hopeful)
customers have come to speak to deceased relatives, family members whom
Alice tells clients she can reach via an otherworldly connection.
That connection is a lie, of course. People
believe what they want to believe, and Alice suggests to her children
(who help with the showmanship of the performance) that she’s doing a
good deed. She’s providing a unique, slightly fabricated service to
people in need.
couple of things immediately strike the viewer early on. First, Reaser
is magnetic as the single-mother: an engaging mix of forceful, clever,
confident and sexy. Second, there’s an artfulness in the presentation
here that immediately clues you into Ouija’s many gifts, like the inspired symmetry of the compositions or the note-perfect, period-specific details (the music, fashion, color palette).
Then the story pivots, as the family unwittingly
invites a fiendish entity into the house. It’s unclear whether it’s a
disembodied spirit or phantom. It doesn’t exactly matter. Whatever it
is, it has consumed Doris, the younger of Alice’s two girls. Soon, a
family trying to recover from the death of the patriarch has to face
something much more threatening: a grade-schooler tormented by a
deranged creature — or presence — whose sole mission is to kill.
Ouija: Origin of Evil, directed by Mike Flanagan (Before I Wake") is a self-aware
horror film that manages to still have a self. It doesn’t drown in
irony, sarcasm or cinematic knowingness; it’s aware of the clichés of contemporary horror: characters
splintering off in the face of danger, silence punctuated by grating
sounds, a possessed child driven by malevolence. These are obvious
trappings, and this thriller upends all of them.