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Ouija: Origin of Evil - Film Review

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by Kiesten McCauley (subscribe)
My early career was in teaching, writing, producing and directing for theatre, comedy and impro shows. Now I'm a professional creative person. Mostly high-end branding, strategy, writing, editing and digital content creation.
Published October 19th 2016
Getting Audiences into the Halloween Spirit
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Never play alone. Don't use it in a graveyard. Always say good-bye.

Supernatural themes? Check. Eerie child? Check. Jump scares? Check x 13. Ouija: Origin of Evil, now playing at cinemas around the nation, ticks a multitude of horror movie trope boxes, but you won't find it traipsing into the over-done teen-friendly ironic horror spoof category.

It's another in the pantheon of Universal Pictures' horror movies and as such has big shoes to fill. Thankfully, Ouija: Origin of Evil rises to the challenge with a genuinely scary movie that surpasses their 2014 offering Ouija, from which some characters, dialogue and even props and set pieces have been used in this prequel/sequel which is set in 1967.

Visually it makes its mark right from the get-go with a colour palette that screams late 60s at you – browns, oranges, sepia tones, beautiful use of chiaroscuro – you know you're being taken back to a pre-internet, pre-man on the moon time. The film's costumes, props, décor and sets are on point and it's packed with beautiful classic 1960s vehicles for the car enthusiasts too. The filmmakers have done competent work on the special effects and the creatures were tight, meaty and most importantly, scary.

Cinematography, visual effects, and editing heavily draw on influences from the late 60s and early 70s like Rosemary's Baby, The Omen, The Exorcist, and Village of the Damned and it's these influences, in the opinion of this reviewer, that make Ouija: Origin of Evil such a powerfully good horror film.

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There's a lot of good horror screening this month.

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Even the candy bar is in spooky spirits.

Ouija: Origin of Evil uses the tools of those late 60s and early 70s films – the language of the filmmakers of that time, who took the genre seriously and expected you to be terrified – to create a film that is actually scary and will stay with you longer than the walk from the cinema to the car park. Those filmmakers were working in a time before 'Satanic Panic' set in (when Tipper Gore went on her quest to censor any media she believed to be corrupting the youth of the USA) so they weren't discouraged from seriously exploring supernatural themes.

Around the 1980s, horror as a genre stopped taking itself as seriously as a vehicle for building and relieving deep tension and fear. Instead you could sense studios desperately trying to keep the conservative politicians happy and simultaneously capture larger, more lucrative markets: teenagers, action film fans, women, and especially comedy movie buffs. Fewer films that were seriously terrifying and that cared to properly build suspense were being created. Instead we had a slew of predictable, shock, schlock, splatter, gore, gross out, joke laden, brainless bloodbaths that made you laugh, cringe and say, "Ewwww". That trend has continued well into the current day.

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This young lady was enticing cinema-goers to Ouija with her!

Ouija: Origin of Evil takes itself seriously as a horror movie and requests audiences do too. It's still very accessible for a modern non-horror loving audience – those big lucrative markets. The music, sound effects and camera angles all hint at when something scary is coming – both building pressure but also preparing you for the fright. It's not laden with buckets of pointless gore. The narrative and the characters' motivation makes sense. The casting is superb and acting is competent – something which can so rarely be said of modern horror films.

Lulu Wilson, who plays Doris Zander does an amazing job of acting for such a little girl. She was genuinely creepy and make up and special effects were used very successfully to dial up her disturbing portrayal. The character of Father Tom (Henry Thomas) served to further remind us of horror classics like The Omen and The Exorcist. His character also provided a nice contrast to Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) and the way her family dealt with the death of a loved one. While Alice as her alter ego Madam Zander pretends to contact the spirit world after her husband's passing, the Father chose to enter the priesthood when his wife passed away.

Only viewers who clearly remember the first movie will cotton on the the fact that we're seeing the childhood backstory of a character who's a grown woman in the 2014 Ouija. Fortunately, Ouija: Origin of Evil is a well-crafted, stand-alone piece, so it's not essential to have seen the first movie to appreciate this one.

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The preview night crowd gathers at Event Cinemas in the Myer Centre.

Last night's effervescent preview audience were in such a jovial mood, their antics throughout the screening somewhat detracted from the tension being built on screen. It was as if they were so unaccustomed to silently dealing with genuine suspense in films they had to shout, giggle and pre-empt the jump-scares and moments where that beautifully built pressure is released.

Plot wise, it would have been nice to have the reveal on the origin of the spirits come a little sooner in the piece, to heighten the terror. While all the major characters are multi faceted and well constructed it does feel like the periphery characters are mere sketches and at least one character that would have upped the ante on the fright factor was never seen at all. Otherwise there wasn't much to find fault with in Ouija: Origin of Evil.

It twists, turns and surprises you all the way to the end. Ouija: Origin of Evil is well worth a watch on a big screen in a darkened cinema, where you can really immerse yourself in the reality created before you. Why not treat yourself to a really scary movie this Halloween season? Check your local guides for session times.
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*Kiesten McCauley was invited as a guest
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Why? Enjoy a fright night out!
When: From 20th October 2016
Where: In cinemas nationwide
Cost: See your local cinema for details
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