Starring Elizabeth Reaser, Henry Thomas, Lulu Wilson, Annalise Basso
Solid. Bleak. Well-acted.
Horror sequels don’t have a good track record. If a horror film is even remotely successful, studios feel the need to milk the formula dry. The reason is clear. Horror pictures are inexpensive and generally yield high returns, regardless of quality. The first Ouija film earned over 100 million dollars on a five mil budget, despite having a 7% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. A sequel was expected. The surprise is how good this sequel is.
Set in 1960s L.A as opposed to its predecessor’s modern-day setting, the film kicks off with a séance performed by the Zander family comprised of the widowed mother (Alice), and two daughters-17 (Lina) and 8 (Doris). The séance is a somewhat elaborate scam that the mother rationalizes as a way to bring comfort to those who’ve lost loved ones. More accurately though, it’s a desperate means of supporting her two daughters as a single mom. After the older daughter, Lina discovers the new Hasbro board game, Ouija, at a friend’s party, and suggests adding it to their business, the fake communication with spirits becomes a genuine communication at the Zander home, and Doris begins demonstrating a clear knack at the process. While the mother believes Doris’ newfound skills to be a blessing from God, Lina grows concerned and seeks help from the school priest. A lot of what ensues is standard spook house tactics: jump scares, sordid backstories, possessed children. It’s a fifty-year-old formula.
What works for this film, and elevates it beyond its familiar trappings is the commitment to character development and the resulting performances. The cast of unknowns-Elizabeth Reaser as the mom, Annalise Basso as Lina, and especially Lulu Wilson as Doris- are excellent. The latter is equally convincing as her character shifts from the endearingly strange little girl to her terrifyingly sinister possessed substitute. Her bright eyes can be adorable or malevolent.
The pace of the film is confident, but largely indebted to better movies before it, and the climax manages to surprise without all-out shocking. If I wanted to find a flaw, I might say the depiction of demons and possession is made too explicit at times, missing out on an aura of mystery that is potentially scarier. The ending is gruesome, made even more startling when seen in contrast to that other big horror sequel of the year, The Conjuring 2. Where that film offered solace and refuge in faith, this film provides no salvation; just horror. How you feel about that will go a long way in how much you enjoy this movie. I consider it an above average horror film and a welcome Halloween excursion.
-Walter Tyrone Howard-