I can’t remember a year where there were more than two critically acclaimed horror movies in one year. After Ouija: Origin of Evil became critically acclaimed across the board, 2016 now has at least three that I can think of (after The Conjuring 2 and Don’t Breathe). Considering the first Ouija-inspired movie that came out was the equivalent of a crop duster perpetually spewing farts, I was quite looking forward to seeing how this sequel improved things.
And while I can see why people like this movie, I do not have as many good things to say about it as many other critics do.
Now if I was reviewing this movie solely based on how scary I thought it was, I would venture to give it a 7 or dare I say 8 out of 10. There were some scary moments that didn’t quite work for me, but holy crap was the little girl’s face with her blotted-out eyes and gaping mouth ever terrifying.
However, I feel it is only fair to treat horror movies the same way I treat all other movies: as a whole, and not just how scared I was. And when the girl isn’t computer animated to look like a satanic opera singer, I was far from impressed with almost everything else the movie had to offer me.
For starters, the actress who played the possessed girl (Doris) was a stiff performer. When she played a normal girl, before the Ouija board ever enters the house, the vast majority of her performance was her forcing out her lines out in a way that was extremely inorganic. When she starts losing her marbles, her acting gets a lot better, but considering half of that performance consisted of her creepily staring at people, and the other half having half of her face plastered with special effects, I can’t really credit her with this improvement.
The vast majority of dialogue was frustratingly simplistic and expository.
Okay, so I feel like I throw the word “expository” around a lot in my reviews, so allow me to explain what I mean. As I’ve relayed before in my Deepwater Horizon review, I require dialogue to be organic, interesting, and revealing.
Expository dialogue is way too revealing all the while sacrificing any sort of organic feeling. If you ever watch a movie or show and feel like somebody is telling you their life story at a time that feels unnatural or even inappropriate, and it starts to feel like they’re only talking about these things to inform the audience about something, that is expository dialogue.
Ouija: Origin of Evil is chock full of this kind of dialogue, especially at the beginning. At multiple points in the movie, the mother or daughters blurt out how much they miss dad (because that patriarch of the family is dead), and how they’re suffering so much because dad’s gone, or how life’s changed so much because dad died. When this is combined with the fact that Doris, the little girl who talks about dad the most, is so clunky when it comes to her line delivery, the result is that most of the script feels like it is done out of obligation instead out of a sheer interest to truly develop these character.
Everyone else in the movie performs fine, I guess, but there is no performance that comes close to memorable.
Also, I want to point something out because it annoyed me to no end: at the beginning of the movie, as one of the girls is sitting on the couch, there’s a family picture behind her head, and I could see that it not only had the mother and two daughters, but also a father figure, indicating a mystery as to why he isn’t in the picture anymore. This made me appreciate the subtlety of the film that it allowed me to recognize this stuff on my own…
… Except unfortunately, I gave the movie too much credit, because seconds later, they decide to zoom in on the picture and force you to realize that this picture reveals an absent father. This upset me. Movies are better experiences when they decide to treat their audience with dignity instead of just assuming they’re morons who can’t understand context. What separates good storytelling for mediocre storytelling is the subtle hints and drops that the movie provides that reward viewers who are paying attention. Except for one or two scenes, Ouija never has these subtle moments.
The closer the movie came to finishing, the less it makes sense. There’s this thing that a lot of crappy horror movies do where they decide to abandon all story logic in order to horrify the audience (The Forest and Blair Witch… and The Witch come to mind). The twists and turns in the narrative are accomplished at the expense of the overall story, and it really dampens the experience.
And of course, this movie forces its characters into stupid decisions in order to make these scary things happen.
<Minor spoiler> There’s a moment in the movie where one of the characters suggests that they split up, and another character goes on a huge tirade about how she wants to stay and not split up. She ends the tirade with, “and besides… splitting up sounds like a stupid idea”. The way that line was delivered made it excruciatingly obvious that it was solely in the movie to wink-and-nod to the audience about how cliche the “splitting up” narrative trope is in horror movies. To make matters worse, they end up splitting up anyway. </Minor spoiler>
All in all, Ouija: Origin of Evil is not necessarily a bad movie, but it is far from good. The greatness of the movie is the middle, which is probably some of the scariest content I’ve seen all year. However, the scary moments are sandwiched between a beginning that has poorly written dialogue and an ending that is an exercise in the illogical.
If your soul criteria for horror movies is whether or not they scared you, then this is certainly the movie for you. Whenever I simply think about that freaky girl, I get an avalanche of chills down my spine. But as a story, Ouija: Origin of Evil is stupid half the time and unexceptional the other half of the time.