What a year for horror. There’s the magnificent The Witch. The Conjuring 2: the horror sequel that’s surprisingly good. And, of course, the arthouse infused The Neon Demon. Even though I didn’t care for it, The Green Room is impeccably made. And that’s just the highlights the first half of the year. Ouija: Origin of Evil continues the trend of solid horror flicks in 2016.
Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser), a single mother, makes ends meet by conning people with her medium act. She is assisted by her two daughters: Linda (Annalise Basso) and Doris (Lulu Wilson). When Linda is caught at a party using a Ouija board, Alice thinks it might be just the thing to spice up their act. But when Doris becomes obsessed with the board and says she can use it to communicate with their dead father, things become unsettling fast.
Like The Conjuring films, this is more of a family drama than a horror flick. The weight of single motherhood, the troubles of a rebellious teen and that weird child who isn’t quite right all are stirred about in the stew of horror. The paranormal is a catalyst to teasing out and heightening these tensions until they become almost unbearable.
Where things fall short is in the performances. Lulu is the finest of the bunch, playing up the horrors of the spiritual realm and spiritual possession with an unnerving creepiness. Anyone terrified of children might want to skip this one. However, Elizabeth and especially Annalise aren’t always able to sell the scenes. This is straight horror and they drift a bit too much into camp. The dialogue writing doesn’t do them any favors.
Beyond that misstep, it’s a fascinating look into how the traumas of the past haunt us. There’s the obvious dead father who leaves this void in the family, a void everyone tries to fill with different things. Then there are deeper evils that go back in time and reveal the dark secret within the heart of the house.
The subtitle of Origin of Evil is a bit trite, especially when the opening scene displays the year 1965. Surely no one thinks evil begins there. But evil is something far older, something that festers inside the human heart. Like all good horror, the film tries to peel back the skin, cut through the bone, and expose humanity’s black heart. After all, evil begins within.
© 2016 James Blake Ewing