I thought maybe I’d seen this movie before but it turns out not to be true. Like exorcism movies, I always get my Ouija board films confused too.
In this case I’m so glad this was new to me because I’ve been binge watching The Haunting of Hill House (2018) this weekend*, which is by the director of this movie, Mike Flanagan. And while I was going through his filmography this popped up, which was already on my 31 Horrors list. Bingo!
Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)
In 1967 Los Angeles, a widowed mother and her daughters add a new stunt to bolster their seance scam business by inviting an evil presence into their home, not realizing how dangerous it is.
It’s the swinging sixties and recently widowed Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) has a pretty good fake medium racket going. With the help of her daughters Lina and Doris (Elizabeth Reaser and Lulu Wilson), she is able to convince ordinary folk that their late loved ones are communicating with them beyond the grave.
While some customers are dubious, Alice maintains that they’re offering the legitimate service of comfort and kindness – so who cares if it’s real? I sort of get her rhetoric to be honest. Anyway, the family are still pretty raw over the loss of Roger, the girls’ dad who has recently passed himself.
When 15-year-old Lina goes to a sneaky house party at a friend’s house one evening, she stumbles across a Ouija board game, recently purchased by the parents of the household. Cynical about the so-called afterlife, Lina is level-headed when her and her friends sit down to have a play. Everyone’s freaked out but she is adamant that it’s all just a crock of shit.
She does suggest the Ouija to her mum as part of their scam business though and unfortunately for everyone concerned, Alice buys one. She has a little go before sharing with the group and little does she know, she summons a spirit called Marcus. Ooooooooo!
Doris also uses the board alone when she contacts her dad for help following a letter from the bank threatening foreclosure on the house. She is lead to a secret compartment in one of the walls that reveals a heap of money, thus saving the day.
The women then do the Ouija together believing it to be a pipeline straight to Roger. Doris seems to have the most affinity with the board and takes over as the star of the show but soon starts to pay the price. Slowly but surely she is possessed by something horrible. Lina gets freaked out by the change in her sister, particularly when she starts writing frenzied notes in what appears to be Polish.
Luckily, kindly widower Father Tom (Henry Thomas) is kicking about to help the family, and when Lina mentions Doris’ oddness, he comes over under the pretense of chatting to his deceased wife Gloria. He then reveals to Lina and Alice that the Polish shorthand notes are entries written by an immigrant named Marcus (and transcribed through Doris), who was tortured by an evil doctor in the basement of the house during World War II. Awkward.
Meanwhile, Doris just keeps getting weirder and weirder – and is very not okay, hun. Basically the house is rife with evil angry spirits down below and the family have got their work cut out for them. Will they come together when it matters to kick Marcus and his pals’ ghostly arses – or?
Hmm. Yes. Yes I liked this very much. It’s a nice period piece loyal to the time period and is genuinely creepy. There are times it’s a little heavy handed on the effects but I didn’t mind that. All three women are convincing and I really enjoyed the climax.
I haven’t gone into it too deeply for fear of spoiling it but it is an interesting lament on grief and longing. Like, wouldn’t we all do similar just to speak to the precious ones we’ve lost? I know I would – and I have. My one and only brush with the Ouija when I was backpacking in Australia was terrifying and I believe it completely. Or at least I believe in the fear and behaviour it can invoke.
If we’re honest, there’s nothing earth-shatteringly new here but something Mike Flanagan does well is characterisation (back to Hill House) and he obviously has a lot of love for the genre, which comes across in his work. I’m a big fan and I really like how he continues to use the same actors across the board. Maybe I’m a bit biased because I love HH so much (*and will be waffling on about it soon) but this was good too.