** out of four
Ouija: Origin of Evil is almost a good horror film. It's smarter that the average horror movies that have been coming out of late (Fender Bender, anyone?), it uses its creepy digital effects sparingly and effectively, the performances are good, there is actual character development, and Elizabeth Reaser looks great in mini skirts. So, where does it go astray? The ending. See, this is a prequel to 2014's Ouija, which I haven't seen but that doesn't really matter because Origin of Evil is its own movie, at least up until the tacked on final scenes when it tries to connect to the first movie. Horror prequels usually don't end well for the protagonists, for the evil entity can't be vanquished because he/she/it has to appear in the next chapter – which would be the previous movie in these cases. So, there is no tension and no hope for the characters. That's pretty depressing. 'Found footage” movies generally work the same way, but some of those have come up with clever wrap-ups, and they are not prequels, so we don't exactly know the outcome and fate of the main characters.
Anyway, Origin of Evil takes place in 1967 where a widowed mother (Reaser) runs a séance racket with the help of her two daughters (Annalise Basso and Lulu Wilson). They buy a Ouija board to add to their scam, but a dangerous spirit uses the youngest daughter (Wilson, is a devilish performance) as its vessel. From there, we get the typical demonic possession stuff, but the film is wise enough to have an occasional sense of humor. A handsome priest (E.T.'s Henry Thomas) is also thrown into the mix, but he turns out to be fairly useless.
Origin of Evil is directed by Mike Flanagan, who made the overrated Oculus (2013), about a killer mirror. Both movies have an all-powerful evil that is unstoppable. There is no way to even try to destroy it, so why bother with these movies when you know the outcome going in?