October 31, 2016
Back in 2014, there was a film entitled "Ouija" inspired by the board "game" for communicating with the spirit world by Hasbro Bros. Despite its box office success, the critics panned it. The trailers for this new Ouija film had been very good, that I knew I had to go watch it. Its local screening just had to be perfectly timed for Halloween, and so my son and I went in the cinema that night in full anticipation to be scared and entertained.
It was 1967 in Los Angeles, a young widow named Alice Zander made a living by telling fortunes and hosting séances that she meant to comfort here grieving clients, even if in reality they were actually only cleverly staged by Alice with the help of her daughters Lina and Doris. Upon Lina's suggestion, Alice buys a Ouija Board as a prop for her business, but only after outfitting its planchette with magnets. However, Alice accidentally arouses a dark and tormented spirit which never left her family alone since then, especially young Doris.
Unlike the petty millennial characters in the first film, this prequel actually had a central family of characters with whom we could empathize. Elizabeth Reaser may have played an imperfect mom Alice with a shady business, we saw that her caring for her kids was sincere. Annalise Basso may look too mature to be high school sophomore Lina, but we still were able to connect with her concern for her distracted mother and transformed younger sister.
Best of all, Lulu Wilson was just so charming as the little girl possessed by the evil spirit, she was really the best performer up there on screen. We have seen creepy kids in many horror films come and go, but this girl was really riveting here. She had a screen presence like a young Reese Witherspoon. When she was describing how it felt to be strangled to death, the whole audience may have grown goosebumps just listening to her.
It was great to see Henry Thomas again in a marked role as the school principal and priest Fr. Tom Hogan. Yes, that is little Elliott of "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial" all grown up at 45 years of age. In any case, his awkward dinner scene with Mrs. Zander (all glammed up in red) in the swanky restaurant just sent all sorts of wrong vibes.
Since I watched the first film after the prequel second film, I essentially watched the first film as a sequel. Connections between these two films were well-established. It was set in the same old house with the "graveyard" basement. The characters will still be violating the rules of the game, despite the many times these rules were repeatedly enumerated. There were still those same disturbing images of the stretched-out open mouth screams as well as the even more disturbing images of the stitched up mouths. There will again be a hanging scene from the same staircase.
I did not think the first film was really all that bad, but the second film was so much better and richer in material. However, the story and even the personalities of the three Zander ladies seemed to have shifted between episodes, particularly that of Lina. But then again, she did spend decades in an asylum by the time Lin Shaye (the same creepy lady in the "Insidious" films) played her in the first film. The carefully detailed recreation of Los Angeles in the late 1960s in terms of set and costumes was also remarkable in this prequel.
Despite the typical horror cliches, writer-director Mike Flanagan managed to improve on the idea of the original film, and succeeded to create an engaging and entertaining formula for a horror film that was great to watch with a skittish audience in a movie house. We knew that when a character looked into a mirror long enough, something will appear behind her. We knew that when a character looked through the lens of the planchette (the window to the "other side"), she will see a spooky image. Yet those big startle scenes were so perfectly timed and executed, they still got us shocked to jump out of our seats, and that was such good fun. 8/10.