The latest entry in the milder PG-13 branch of the possessed-child genre spawned by the original “The Exorcist,” “Ouija: Origin of Evil” is, somewhat unexpectedly, not that bad. (Unexpectedly because it is a follow-up to the 2014 “Ouija,” which was simply awful.)
Directed by Mike Flanagan (“Oculus”), the new film conjures shivers worthy of Halloween. Flanagan has a good eye for spirits flitting in and out of the corners of the frame, for shadows lurking in an old house and for a basement loaded with – well, never mind. The plot has a spine and good actors to flesh it out. There are even moments of actual humor.
“Origin” is a prequel to the earlier film, in which a teenage girl died mysteriously after pulling her old Ouija board out of the attic and playing with it alone – a Ouija no-no – thus releasing an angry spirit. Friends who tried to contact her spirit via the board fared badly too. “Ouija: Origin of Evil” shows how all that began.
Set in 1967 Los Angeles, the film follows recently widowed fortune teller Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) and her daughters: 15-year-old Paulina, known as Lina (Annalise Basso), and 9-year-old Doris (Lulu Wilson). The girls help Mom with special effects for her sham act.
But when Alice picks up a Ouija board to add pizazz to the mix, somber little Doris plays with it. She shouldn’t have done that.
Father Tom (Henry Thomas), the principal at the girls’ parochial school, senses what manner of evil now stalks the Zander family. His third act intervention is derivative, but devilish fun.
Two stars. Rated PG-13. Contains scenes of violence and demonic possession that are quite intense but not visually gory. 99 minutes.
Ratings Guide: Four stars masterpiece, three stars very good, two stars OK, one star poor, no stars waste of time.