Filmmakers and audiences alike know how difficult it is to make a satisfactory sequel these days. It’s all too common to see a terrific film receive a sequel, only to find that the studio and filmmakers phoned in the follow-up, hoping that the popularity of the first movie would be enough to float a mismanaged train wreck. Rarely does a sequel capture the essence of the first while building upon the themes and characters that made its original a huge success; but when it does, it’s the stuff of cinematic legend. The Empire Strikes Back, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, The Dark Knight, and…Ouija: Origin of Evil? While the sequel to a movie based on a flimsy deal between Universal Pictures and Hasbro, Inc that gave us Battleship might not seem like a winner, it might just be second time’s the charm for the fledgling Ouija franchise.
Ouija: Origin of Evil is just that; an origin story of how Alice Zander (the old ghost from the first film) unleashed a forgotten evil on her daughters Doris (the ghost with her mouth sewn shut in the first film) and Paulina (the old woman from the first film). Alice Zander (played by Elizabeth Reaser) is a fortune-teller and medium living in 1960s Los Angeles. Unbeknownst to Alice’s clients, her daughters Doris (Lulu Wilson) and Paulina (Annalise Basso) assist her in creating fake supernatural encounters during eerily realistic séances. One day, Paulina suggests that Alice use a Ouija board in her fake readings, due to its booming popularity at the time. After rigging the board with magnets, Alice tests the board with her daughters, who find that the board is actually moving on its own. Confusion turns to terror when the spirit with whom they’re communicating, Marcus, inhabits Doris’s body to speak through her before suddenly disappearing. While the family dismisses the encounter as a one-time supernatural phenomenon, Doris begins exhibiting strange behavior, like suddenly writing in cursive and speaking Polish. Unbeknownst to the rest of the family, Doris continues to use the board to communicate with a spirit she believes is her father’s, but while allowing the sinister Marcus to tighten his grip on the young girl.
While there are a number of reasons critics are hailing Ouija: Origin of Evil as a vast improvement on the original, one of the biggest reasons is hiring Mike Flanagan to direct and co-write the film. Flanagan has been a pioneer in modern horror the past several years, after turning his short film, Oculus: Chapter 3, into the hit horror movie, Oculus. In addition to Ouija: Origin of Evil, Flannagan has written and directed indie horror flicks Hush and Before I Wake this year alone. This latest film is co-written by Flannagan’s frequent collaborator Jeff Howard, who heavily contributed to the Oculus and Before I Wake. The duo’s skill at realistically weaving the supernatural with the ordinary has made their previous films extremely popular with horror fans, and made them an ideal choice for a film based on such a well-known novelty as a Ouija board.
Another reason the film is quickly becoming more popular than the first was the decision to make the film a prequel. Not only does the film take place during the resurgence of the Ouija board’s popularity with young people, it’s set in a pre-digital era more in tune with Ouija’s unnerving appeal. It also makes a more plausible setting for a small family struggling to get by, as Flannagan chose to use Mr. Zander as a motivator for using the Ouija board instead of having him present in the film. The decision to focus on a family instead of a group of teens also adds more depth to this sequel, much in the way The Conjuring Series did. People are more likely to be afraid for a family member than they are for a friend, which makes the audience more invested in and attached to the characters.
While some audiences are afraid Origin of Evil will simply be a retelling of the events from the first film, this is no cut and dry rehashing; Flannagan has added twists and turns that will spook audiences no matter how many times they’ve seen the original Ouija. Of course, Flannagan’s masterful direction keeps the audience so involved in what’s happening on-screen, you’ll probably be too glued to the edge of your seat to even think about the first film.
You can find showtimes and tickets for this year’s most startling and shocking Halloween movie right here.