Tuesday, November 8, 2016

It Came From The Cineplex: Ouija: Origin Of Evil

At long last, I'm reviewing the #1 supernatural movie that everyone in the country's talking about! Doctor Stra Ouija: Origin Of Evil.

(insert falling slide whistle tone here)

Ouija: Origin Of Evil was written by Jeff Howard and Mike Flanagan, and directed by Mike Flanagan.

Howard previously wrote Oculus and Before I Wake, neither of which I've seen or heard of. Flanagan previously wrote and directed Ghosts Of Hamilton Street and Absentia, which I've also never seen or heard of.

The film is a prequel to 2014's Ouija, which, believe it or not, wasn't the worst thing I've ever seen. Amazingly the first film grossed an astonishing $103 million worldwide against its meager $5 million budget. With numbers like that, a second film was inevitable. So far Ouija: Origin Of Evil isn't pulling in quite the same numbers, grossing around $65 million so far, against its $9 million budget. Movies generally need to make around twice their production cost before they show a profit, so this one's still a modest hit. Look for Ouija 3: Back To The Board sometime in 2018.

Ouija: Origin Of Evil is yet another entry in Hasbro's "Let's Turn All Our Toys And Games Into Movies" series, the previous examples being Transformers, G.I. Joe and Battleship.

I actually remembered quite a bit about the first film, which is rare these days usually these PG-13 horror films all run together, and being fading from my mind on the way out of the cineplex. From what I can tell, this prequel lines up nicely with the original movie. Like its predecessor, Ouija: Origin Of Evil isn't the least bit scary, but it's better than the original and is a fairly well written, slow burn little horror film.

Believe it or not, Michael Bay is one of the producers of this film. Yep, that Michael Bay. The person responsible for the Transformers "movies." Fortunately for the audience, he had nothing to do with the directing chores on this film, so it's actually comprehensible.

It took a whopping FIVE production companies to bring this movie to the screen: Allspark Productions, Blumhouse Productions, Hasbro Studios, Platinum Dunes and Intrepid Pictures. I have no idea why so many companies got into the act, as it's a small and very inexpensive film. 

SPOILERS FOR A PREQUEL TO A MOVIE YOU MAY HAVE ALREADY SEEN THAT'S BASED ON A BOARD GAME!

The Plot:
In 1967, Alice Zander works as a fortune teller, holding fake seances in her parlor. Her daughters Lina and Doris help out with the show, opening doors and posing as ghostly apparitions. When Doris asks why they're lying to their customers, Alice says that her fake psychic readings give closure to people, and help them move on with their lives. Whatever helps you sleep at night, Alice!

That night Lina sneaks out of the house and goes to a party. One of her friends has a brand new Ouija Board, and suggests they play. Before playing, they read the rules of the game: 1. Never play alone, 2. Never play in a graveyard and 3. Always say goodbye to the spirit. 

Even though Lina knows the whole thing's a bunch of hooey, she marvels at how it scares a particularly nervous girl at the party. Just then the hostess' mom comes home early, and busts up the party. An angry Alice comes to pick up Lina. She tells her daughter she needs her to shape up, as it's difficult to run the household by herself since her husband Roger was killed.

The next day Lina suggests that Alice incorporate a Ouija Board in her act. Alice thinks it's a good idea and buys one. She paints the planchette with metallic paint, so she can manipulate it from under the table with magnets. That night, Doris uses the board alone (violating the first rule), and inadvertently contacts a spirit. Alice wakes up and finds Doris playing with the Board, and is shocked to see the planchette moving around by itself. Doris violates yet another rule by not properly saying goodbye to the spirit.

Father Tom (played by Henry Thomas, of E.T. fame!) the principal of the Zander girls' Catholic school, calls Alice in to talk. Father Tom notes that Doris has started turning in homework in cursive, despite the fact she hasn't been taught how to write it. Back at home, Alice accuses Lina of doing Doris' homework for her, but she denies having anything to do with it. When pressed, Doris says her new "friend" wrote her homework.

Meanwhile, the bank is foreclosing on the Zander home, leaving Alice wondering where they're going to live. Doris uses the Board again, believing she's communicating with her dead father Roger. The spirit sends her a message, and she goes down into the basement and removes a stone from the wall behind the furnace. She reaches in and pulls out a moldy bag. As Alice frets about the mortgage, Doris presents her with the bag, which is filled with thousands of dollars! When Alice asks where she got it, she says her father "gave" it to her.

Alice decides to test Doris' claims, so the three of them sit down with the Board. Alice is stunned when the planchette moves around on its own. She asks a question that only Roger would know, and the board answers correctly. This convinces Alice that they've contacted Roger, but Lina's not so sure. Alice begins keeping Doris home from school so they can channel spirits through the Ouija Board, giving their customers actual, legitimate psychic readings. After a while, Doris starts answering questions in various peoples' voices, indicating the spirits are now speaking through her.

Doris starts feeling ill, and gets a sharp pain in her neck. For some reason she looks through the clear window in the Ouija Board planchette, and sees a dark, demonic figure standing in the middle of the room. It grabs her and possesses her. The next day Lina sees Doris furiously filling sheets of paper with writing, while not even looking at them. She examines the papers, and believes they're written in Polish. This strikes her as odd, since needless to say, Doris doesn't speak or write it. Lina takes the papers to Father Tom to see if he can translate them.

A few days later Father Tom shows up at the Zander home, saying he'd like Doris to give him a reading. He asks if she can contact his late wife Gloria (yep, that's right this priest is a widower!). Doris channels Gloria, who says she forgives him for their last fight or something. Afterwards, Father Tom asks to speak with Alice and Lina upstairs.

Meanwhile, Lina's boyfriend Mikey comes to call. Doris invites him in and gets him to follow her to the basement, where she kills him by hanging him from a noose (!). 

Upstairs, Father Tom tells Alice and Lina that Doris didn't contact Gloria. During the seance he thought of "wrong" answers to his questions, and Doris apparently read his mind. 

Additionally, Father Tom says he had Doris' papers translated, and they were apparently "written" by a Polish man who was killed by the former owner of the Zander house an ex-Nazi doctor (naturally). This doctor liked to while away the hours by abducting people and experimenting on them in a secret room in the basement. When he was finished with "patients," he bricked up the room and left them to die inside. Father Tom suspects Doris is being possessed by the spirit of one of these patients, and suggests an exorcism.

Alice, Lina and Father Tom come back downstairs. Suddenly Mikey's body drops from a noose, startling them (never mind how even a possessed little girl hauled his body up out of the basement). The three enter the basement, looking for Doris. Lina tosses the Ouija Board into the furnace and burns it. Behind the furnace, Father Tom finds the hole in the wall where the money was hidden. He looks through the hole and discovers a room behind the wall that's full of the skeletons of the Nazi doctor's experiments. They realize this means they just violated the last of the Ouija Board rules the one about not playing in a graveyard.

They hear the sound of Doris crying, along with an old phonograph playing a German song, coming from the other side of the wall. Father Tom crawls through the duct work to find the Nazi doctor's secret room. He sees Doris there, and she floats toward him and whispers in his ear. Father Tom, now possessed by an angry spirit, returns to the basement and tries to kill Alice and Lina with a knife. They run upstairs, and Father Tom regains control long enough for them to get away. An angry and possessed Doris flings him across the room, breaking his neck.

Upstairs, Alice and Lina find the Ouija Board that they just burned intact on the table. Doris appears and possesses Lina. Alice pleads with the spirits to release her daughters and take her instead. She's immediately pulled into the basement by an unseen force. Lina wakes upstairs on her bed, and sees a vision of her father Roger. He's holding a doll he gave her, whose mouth has been sewn shut. She realizes what she has to do. She goes to the secret room in the basement, where Doris has chained Alice to a slab. Lina grabs Doris and chains her to the wall. She then begins violently sewing up Doris' mouth, as demons claw at her. The instant that Doris' mouth is completely sewn up, the demons disappear. Doris then dies from her injuries. Alice manages to free herself from the slab. Lina is momentarily possessed and stabs her mother. As Alice's life slips away, she sees a vision of Roger and Doris together, welcoming her. Lina regains control and is horrified by what she's done.

Several months later, Lina's now in a mental hospital. Her doctor asks her if she knows what happened to her family, but she's incoherent and distracted. Later in her room, she cuts her hand and uses her own blood to draw a makeshift Ouija Board under her carpet. She uses the Board alone (uh-oh!), and tries to summon her sister Doris. 

In a post credit scene, we see Lina (now played by the always excellent Lin Shaye), still living in the asylum in the present day. A nurse tells her she has a visit from someone claiming to be her niece, which ties in directly to the original film.

Thoughts:
 I never had a Ouija Board as a kid. Do they really come with a card detailing the three rules, like the one in this movie?

The rules are obviously designed to scare you and add to the atmosphere of the "game." In reality the first rule "Never play alone" is purely practical. The planchette obviously can't move by itself, and of course is guided by one of the players. Naturally everyone swears they're not the one sliding it around. If you play by yourself, then the planchette's just going to sit there motionless. Hence Rule #1.

The second rule "Never play in a graveyard" always makes me laugh. Does that really need to be said? Who the hell would ever drag four friends and a Ouija Board out to a cemetery?

 The best part of the film for me was the late 1960s setting. Even better, the producers didn't just set the film in that time period, they did their best to make Ouija: Origin Of Evil look like it was made in the 60s as well!

The picture even begins with the old school Universal Pictures logo, that was in use from 1963 all the way up to 1990. Cool!

They also used a simple, old school title screen superimposed over the action. These types of title screens were often used in 1960s and 1970s movies.

They also stuck several simulated "cigarette burns" into the movie! Amazing!

See, back in the old days (up until maybe fifteen years ago), movies were spooled onto multiple reels. Each reel could hold about ten minutes of film. There were two film projectors in the booth at the back of the theater, and the projectionist would load up Reel 1 and play it. He'd then get Reel 2 ready to go on the second projector. 

The projectionist would watch the upper right hand corner of the screen, waiting for a small circle to flash on the screen for a couple of frames. The circle, nicknamed a "cigarette burn," was the signal that the reel was about to end, and it was time to switch from Reel 1 to 2. A good projectionist could do this seamlessly so the audience never noticed the hand off.

Most audiences never even noticed the cigarette burns, as the circles appeared for just a fraction of a second on the screen. The producers of Ouija: Origin Of Evil took the time to simulate these circles, making it feel like a movie projected from actual film. Now that's attention to detail!

I also noticed a couple of deep focus "split diopter" shots in the film as well.

What the hell's a split diopter, you ask? It's a special lens that's divided down the middle, allowing the camera to focus on things in the extreme background and foreground at the same time. The disadvantage of the split diopter lens is that there's usually a blurry line in the middle of the screen (where the transition between far and near occurs). As a result of this, the director will try to hide the seam in a vertical object (like the pillar in the All The President's Men pic above). Another disadvantage to the diopter lens is it can only be used in a static shot.

You don't see split diopter shots much anymore for some reason, but 1970s films were lousy with 'em. I don't know if the scenes in Ouija: Origin Of Evil were shot with an actual split lens, or if they were optically stitched together with a computer. If I had to guess, I'd say the latter.

 The Ouija Board box seen in the movie was the type used in the 1960s, and correct for the period. Well done, prop guys!

• Henry Thomas plays Father, er, Thomas in the film. I have to admit I didn't recognize him until I saw his name in the credits.

Oddly enough, Father Tom is a widower who's become a Catholic priest. I'm not a Catholic, and I freely admit I know little or nothing about the religion. Is such a thing really possible?

Turns out that yes, it's possible, but highly unlikely. It depends a lot on the age of the man in question, and on his diocese. A widowed man could even become a priest if he has children, provided they're self-sufficient adults. And that's one to grow on!

• When Father Tom first approaches the Zander home, there's a very blatant homage to The Exorcist. There's no fog and it's daytime in the Ouija shot, but the composiiton and pose are nearly identical. There's no way it wasn't intentional.

 In the third act, Lina kills her family in order to save them, and even though she didn't murder Father Tom, she was no doubt blamed for his death as well. At the end of the movie we see she's been confined to a mental institution.

So often in horror movies a character will kill multiple people, including the main villain, and then walk off the screen completely scott-free. It was nice to see a film that featured some actual consequences to the character's actions. Well, maybe not nice, but you know what I mean. 

 In a post credits scene, we see Lina slowly morph into an old woman (still living in the asylum), now played by horror movie icon Lynn Shaye. A nurse tells her someone claiming to be her niece has come to visit. This lines up nicely with the first movie.

The timeline works out as well. This movie takes place in 1967, when Lina is most likely sixteen. If the final scene takes place in 2014, when the original movie came out, that would make Old Lina sixty three.

This ending really should have come right before the credits rolled. It's an important scene that bridges the two films, but I doubt more than one percent of the audience sat through the credits and actually saw it.

I can't believe I'm saying this about a movie based on a board game, but Ouija: Origin Of Evil is a solid, well-made little horror film. It's not the least bit scary, but it has a slow-burn moodiness that was typical of horror films in the 60s and 70s. The producers also bent over backwards to make it seem like a film of that era, which I appreciated. It's also the rare prequel that's better than the original. Believe it or not, I give it a B.

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