What do you think when you think horror? A rated R flick that tries to scare the daylights out of you? Recently, rated R has become a dying art replaced by PG-13, a much bigger and more profitable demographic. But does it work? It does in The Haunting (1963) (rated G) and Lights Out (recent PG-13 flick) but doesn’t always, as with the 2014 film Ouija. People went to see it because it was a Ouija movie on Halloween, so, of course, they made a sequel, or really a prequel, Ouija: Origin of Evil. The trailer seemed promising enough, and I was hopeful that this film would work as a PG-13 flick. But, should director Mike Flanagan have made the film an R rating? Note, I will not be talking about one of the producers Michael Bay, as he is already talked about so much. I will say that there are no explosions and over-sexualized women.
I’ll give the film this: the effects are decent, and there is one awesome scene. Character’s eyes flawlessly change to white to signify that they been possessed. The demon’s appearance is realistic but looks too much like Sauron from Lord of the Rings, especially when a yellow eye is seen in the darkness of someone’s mouth. And, the demon entering the main possessed girl, Doris (Lulu Wilson), looked funny with the overly stretched mouth. The choking motif leads to interesting visuals, such as when Lina’s mouth mutates until it is sealed shut.
By far, the best part of the movie is a slow close-up of Doris’s face as she describes how it feels to be “strangled to death.” Her monologue is done in one take, and the delivery is incredibly uncanny. In fact, Doris was my favorite character because of how creepy she was, and Wilson did a great job giving light to this peculiar kid character. I just enjoyed every time she was on screen, and I felt like there wasn’t enough of her. There were even scenes focusing on the mother, Alice (Elizabeth Reaser), and Doris’s older sister, Lina (Annalise Basso) that involved an in-depth conversation while Doris does frightening things in the background. Keep the camera on her!
Unfortunately, this film suffers from a lot of holes and a boring set-up. I went to see a horror film but saw a lame attempt at a feel-good movie. Alice was a good character, but Lina and her “boyfriend”, Mikey (Parker Mack), were just flat stereotypes. Taking Mikey out of the story would change nothing. Lina is a stereotypical rebellious teenage daughter. Yes, she lost her father, but that’s the only character trait we’re given. We never find out anything else about these people. Doris is picked on by bullies and is socially isolated, but we’re never told why. How is she different? And, what happens to the bullies? As seen in the trailer, Doris makes one of the bullies accidentally shoot himself with a slingshot, but we never hear anything about them again.
I wished Alice had more depth. She seemed to be a major focus in the trailer, and opening, but was more passive as the film progressed. I thought she would decide to buy the Ouija board on her own since it makes sense to help her business. But, the only reason Alice buys one is because her daughter tells her it would be a good idea. I wanted the whole family to be fun con artists that enjoy scamming people, which would play nicely off of the ghosts taking advantage of them in the end. Instead, they’re good people who are just trying to get over their father’s death, something overly discussed in the film.
I understand that kids are always vessels in these films, but there has to be some reasoning behind it. For example, when Alice starts asking the Ouija board questions, Doris is somehow already under its spell as she answers from upstairs. Why? Is it because she’s the youngest kid? Even later in the film when Alice yells at the demon to take her instead of her daughters, the demon says that she’s not a good vessel. I laughed out loud at that part. Can you somehow outgrow being a vessel?
The film’s scares range from creepy to just plain silly. Doris, when possessed by the demon, takes over people by whispering in their ear, which produces a creepy image. However, Doris whispers into Lina’s ear earlier in the film, but she doesn’t react until later whereas the effects are quicker on everyone else. Jump scares are not utilized entirely, which is nice, but the scares can be lame. For example, there is one scene where the ghost pulls the sheets off of Lina. And, before any suspense can be built, it cuts to the next day. That’s a big problem with the film.
Scary things happen with Doris, but there’s no build in suspense. The first half focuses on Alice, posing as a medium, who utilizes the belief of ghosts to help people move on from a loss, so no suspense is built there. And, once Doris can actually communicate with the supernatural, we’re supposed to be fooled into thinking that the ghosts are good. But, it’s obvious that the ghost she’s communicating with is evil. We’re watching a movie entitled Origin of Evil.
SPOILERS: the demon is a supernatural Polish con artist. The big “twist” is that the people communicating via the Ouija board were all really the demon. I like the consistency of the con artist motif, but so much for a powerful supernatural entity. The priest literally tricks the demon into answering one of his questions wrong when at a séance by repeating what he wanted it to say in his head. I guess demons don’t have all knowing powers like in other films.
Continuing with plot holes (SPOILERS), the ending with the father ex machina and last scene with Doris make no sense. Why is the father helping now? Why is the demon letting him be seen? And, why does Doris appear on the ceiling in the last scene about to attack a guard at the insane asylum? Doris dies by having her mouth-sewn shut, so she leaves peacefully into the next world. They collect Alice’s body, but Doris’s goes missing for some reason. And, why is she still evil? Didn’t the entity leave? How can she attack the guard? Doesn’t this break the continuity of the first film, even though no one cares about that one? Ahhhhhh!
As an aside, Ouija is a game with many rules, but these films act like there’s only three. These three are constantly broken throughout the film. In fact, the first time a Ouija board is used is with Lina and her friends, and they break a rule by breaking the circle. But, instead of the entity coming after, and killing, Lina, it focuses on Doris. The filmmakers had such a disregard for the rules that Doris starts saying “Blah, blah, blah” to start her séances since they happen so frequently.
So, is the film worth watching? Well, I’d say see it for that one scene with Doris’s monologue except it is in a trailer. So, I’d say watch that instead because in context it makes no sense in the film. This ruins the monologue because it’s said to the wrong character, Mikey, instead of someone who experiences choking.
And, as far as the PG-13 rating, I’m sorry. It would have been better as an R. It feels restrained and censored. It would have been more enjoyable if it went all the way with its intention, making a memorable, frightening horror film. It should have built suspense and displayed grotesque visuals. Maybe show Doris’s face and expressions as her mouth is sewn up or even a wound when Alice is stabbed. But, no gore here. Why? Because it has to appeal to the most lucrative demographic. I’m disappointed because I saw the potential in this set-up, characters, strangle motif and crazy Doris. But, it was mostly a nonsensical bore. Horror producers! The golden ties that bind are sealing my mouth shut! Cut my binds so we can make horror without being censored by a profitable demographic! I can’t breathe!
Trip Hastings is a sophomore in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.