A writer friend once told me that the secret to crafting a truly good and dismal horror story lies in writing great happy scenes. Show your characters triumphant, peaceful and secure, get your viewers really invested in their well being and success, and then let the audience die a little inside as that happiness slowly gets taken away, piece by piece.
That friend may have been sadistic, but he also had a point: compelling characters with happy prospects are a great way to make the slide into madness seem truly dramatic. In this aspect, "Ouija: Origin of Evil" is a success.
Pitched as a period piece set in the mid '60s, "Origin of Evil" opens on a scammy-but-nice family of séance performers experiencing a ghost story that is practically charming in its slow onset and innocent premise. After a pleasant first act spent helping customers contact the fake spirits of their deceased loved ones, the medium mom and her two daughters are delighted to find that, with the help of a popular occult board game, they can actually contact the very real spirit of their own dearly departed.
Of course, because this is a horror flick and not just a really long and strange episode of "The Wonder Years," things start to get ugly. Once this movie brings out the knives it doesn't let up, and the adorable and surprisingly grounded backstory is practically forgotten in the maelstrom of supernatural shenanigans.
"Ouija: Origin of Evil" isn't here to break cinematic ground. I don't think anyone expects the sequel to a movie based on the adaptation of a 100-year-old board game to explore new territory. While "Origin of Evil" didn't show me anything new, it did the expected elegantly. Each familiar trope greeted me like an old friend, reminding me why I love horror movies in the first place: to anticipate the jump scares, silently admonish characters not to split up or go into the basement, and to root for the final girl to make it to the closing credits.
This movie is pretty self-aware of its nostalgic and familiar feel, even going so far as to put fake "cigarette burn" markers in the top right corner of the screen—a throwback to when theaters still had projectionists. If you're even a casual fan of horror movies, watching this flick on a dreary fall day feels like indulging in cinematic comfort food.
It might remind you a lot of "The Exorcist" or even "The Conjuring," but instead of feeling like a cheap imitation it feels more like a friendly neighborhood homage. In regard to its merits as a sequel to the 2014 "Ouija" movie, I can safely say that this movie surpasses its predecessor pretty easily on every account. Since, full disclosure, I couldn't actually sit through more than 20 minutes of the original.
Even as a sequel, the film feels like a throwback and a great one at that. With great acting, lovable characters and a pitch black ending, "Origin of Evil" is the rarest of horror movie beasts: Simply and disturbingly great.
Dir. Mike Flanagan
Now Playing at Old Mill Stadium 16 & IMAX