It’s difficult to make a board game scary. Most of the time, the games sit in closets gathering dust, or being pulled out for entertainment at family gatherings—as such, they’re not exactly evocative symbols of eldritch horror. 1995’s Jumanji scared younger viewers because of the way its premise evoked the terrors of kidnapping and child abuse. Plus, that movie’s board game was made up, allowing it to remain mysterious and unexpectedly horrifying. Lacking those characteristics, Ouija: Origin of Evil is much less effective at making the classic ghost-medium board game feel scary.
The premise of the film follows the Zander family in 1967 dealing with the recent death of their father and husband. Widowed mom Alice (Elizabeth Reaser) is a fake psychic who buys a new Ouija board game in order to spice up her act while she cares for her daughters and flirts with the priest (Henry Thomas) at their Catholic school. The older daughter Paulina (Annalise Basso) is just a normal high school sophomore trying to get some alone time with her crush. The other daughter Doris (Lulu Wilson) is a precocious little girl who—as one might expect from a movie this riddled with genre clichés—becomes possessed by a demonic force almost immediately after using the Ouija board for the first time. She will later grow up to be the villain of the 2014 Ouija film.
The motives and origin of the villainous ghost are a little unexplained (Nazis are involved somehow?), as is the standard for bizarre occurrences in this universe. Alice seems comfortable with the occult, and the Catholic priest casually mentions Vatican exorcism specialists; they’re not even that fazed by the fact that this little girl has been possessed by a demon. As a result, the movie has no room to build dramatic tension or psychological horror. Instead, it relies mostly on jump scares and demonic special effects. Even though the art of “cute little child becomes scary demon” was mastered by The Exorcist decades ago, the film seems weirdly satisfied with itself for retreading this same territory, often having Doris wear a smug smile after some weird display.
Ouija: Origin of Evil is an interesting exercise in watching filmmakers try to mint a franchise out of basically nothing. The movie shares some characters with the 2014 film it is a prequel to, but the connection adds hardly anything to either film. Effective horror relies on the actualization of some deep-seated cultural fear, but Ouija: Origin of Evil supplies only ineffective clichés and half-hearted attempts at franchise building. C
Ouija: Origin of Evil