“We played in a graveyard.” – Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)

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Rarely (if ever) has there been as great a jump in quality from a movie to its sequel (or prequel, as the case may be) as the one from Ouija to Ouija 2: Electric Boogaloo Ouija: Origin of Evil. That’s what I tweeted when I got home from the theatre, and I stick by it. Which is not to say that Origin of Evil is necessarily the greatest sequel (or prequel) of all time, merely that sequels this good normally come from movies that were already pretty great, whereas the kindest thing that can be said of 2014’s Ouija is probably that it was a harmless enough way to spend 89 minutes.

It’s tempting to lay this at the feet of Mike Flanagan’s sure directorial hand, which he has demonstrated time and again, even if I am in the minority in finding Hush, one of his earlier 2016 efforts, merely okay. But the quality of Origin of Evil owes at least as much to the smart, human script by co-writers Flanagan and Jeff Howard (who also worked together on the superb Oculus and this year’s Before I Wake, which I haven’t yet seen). Since it’s a prequel, there’s really no need to have seen Ouija beforehand, though the storyline dovetails with what I remember from the original in ways that I think will probably improve both films, in the long run. Another rare accomplishment for a sequel or prequel.

Origin of Evil is The Conjuring to Ouija‘s Insidious, not just in its period setting and Catholic trappings, but in its family dynamic and choice to deepen its chills by the juxtaposition of moments of real warmth. (And also an unnecessary scare scene with some blankets that feels lifted directly from The Conjuring.) The script is an incredibly slow burn for a movie with a relatively brief running time of only 99 minutes, but in the final reel things go from exposition to full-on haunted house bonkers at the drop of a hat. It’s an explosion of weirdness that is all the more potent for how restrained the movie has been up to that point.

There are missteps along the way, mostly in the execution of a few of the earlier jump scares and obligatory “creepy kid” moments–Flanagan appears to be better at a kind of creeping realization or hopeless desperation than at delivering a sudden shock–but the extravagances of the last act go a long way toward erasing them from memory. There’s one moment in particular during the film’s absurd spookshow climax that feels like it comes bungee-jumping directly out of Junji Ito manga, in all the best ways.

While the sequel to one of 2014’s worst ghost movies may seem an unlikely place to find one of 2016’s best, sometimes we get something better than we deserve, and it’s tough to imagine a better Ouija movie–sequel, prequel, or otherwise–than the one Mike Flanagan and company have brought us here. Recommended.

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