American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
A throwback studio logo not only evokes a sense of nostalgia, it also make a statement. It says “you know me, and you know the kind of movie I once represented. This is that kind of movie.” With that in mind, “Ouija: Origin of Evil” begins with the old, grungy Universal logo that once preceded four “Airport” movies, William Castle’s “I Saw What You Did” and '70s era genre entertainments like “The Sentinel,” “The Car” and the unforgettably named “Sssssss.” As a kid, whenever I saw the dirty, spinning Earth of the Universal logo, I knew that whatever followed would cradle me to its cinematic bosom and nurture my love of trash. This is not a criticism by any means—it’s a cause for celebration. And yes, I know this same logo also preceded “Jaws”; Spielberg’s classic would have deserved it, too, had the cheap-looking shark actually worked as expected.
But I digress. “Ouija: Origin of Evil” is the prequel to 2014’s “Ouija”. Readers of this site know I enjoyed the first film, and while this one does a slightly better job telling its story, it still can’t resist the kitchen-sink approach that endeared me to its predecessor. This is one overstuffed horror movie recipe, with a dash of “The Exorcist” and a spritz of “Ghost” among its tasty ingredients. By the time it gets to the Polish-speaking ghosts and the ghoulish Nazi doctor, you’re so invested in the characters that you’re willing to buy whatever this carnival barker is selling.
“Ouija; Origin of Evil” takes place in 1967 and tells the backstory of the character played by Lin Shaye in the first film. Played here by Annalise Basso, Lina Zander is the eldest daughter of Alice (Elizabeth Reaser), a fake fortune teller whose house is rigged with customer-fooling trickery. As Lina and her younger sister, Doris (Lulu Wilson) hide in the background and work the special effects, Alice gives what she considers “comfort” to the grief-stricken folks who’ve lost loved ones. The opening scene accomplishes a lot, providing humorous jump scares while establishing the familial bond between the Zanders.
Not much in the way of scares happens for a little while after that. Director/writer/editor Mike Flanagan gives “Ouija: Origin of Evil” the patient pacing of a film from the same time period he depicts onscreen. We grow familiar with the day-to-day concerns of each character. The widowed Alice is worried about keeping the house she and her late husband struggled to buy. Doris is bullied at school because of her mother’s profession. And high school sophomore Lina has a crush on Mikey (Parker Mack), the cute, lanky senior whose palm Alice “reads” when he visits the house. “Is this your dominant hand?” Alice asks her daughter’s potential paramour before dispensing his fortune: “If this, or your other hand touches my daughter in a way I don’t like, your lifeline will get much shorter.”