Some parts of the film are so conventional, it should be screened in a hotel conference room.
However, a few curveballs are lobbed in to make this prequel more interesting than it has any right to be.
The brainchild of director Mike Flanagan (Oculus), who presumably knows a thing or two about witchcraft (he’s from Salem, after all), Ouija: Origin of Evil adds a twist to the supernatural genre: the family at the center of it are scammers, much like palm readers/psychics and other such mountebanks are in real life.
That’s a pretty neat conceit, as we’re introduced to the Zander family in 1960s Los Angeles, manipulating both the board from under the table and a client, answering questions about a loved one from beyond. Having a family of effortlessly charming chiselers definitely adds an extra dimension of interest to Ouija. (FYI, when it comes to the supernatural, the authors of this site’s caveats need caveats. We can’t stand the genre.)
The family seance showbiz team consists of mother Alice and daughters Lina and seemingly innocent nine-year old young one Doris (Lulu Wilson, below, a future star in the making who runs away with this film). Doris even asks at the outset, when a grateful client leaves after a session, piece of mind intact, “What’s a scam?”
However, when the very real powers of little kid are revealed to mother and elder daughter through mysterious Polish language missives scrawled in impeccable cursive in her room, Catholic school principal Father Tom is forced to intervene and then things go haywire.
That’s where we get some of the film’s most memorable scenes: Doris explaining the finer points of strangulation to Lina’s nonplussed beau Mikey, and the undeniably creepy little kid viewing the other realm through the pointer’s lens (as in the image above).
Kudos to Mike Flanagan for his directorial flourishes, sure, but also for the toe-tags. Yes, this supernatural flick actually has a body count! It’s a common grouse of this reviewer, that with hardly any fatalities in this often tame sub-genre, it’s hard to get emotionally invested.
True, there is some genuine silliness as widower Father Tom, all hot under the collar, goes to a fancy restaurant with Alice, who’s sporting a low-cut blouse, and the calls for an immediate exorcism are somewhat laughable…
Still, with low expectations comes a few rewards…Who would’ve thought?
*** (out of 5)