We didn’t think anything was going to get us excited about a sequel to 2014’s crushingly routine Blumhouse horror Ouija, but we didn’t reckon on the addition of director Mike Flanagan and writer Jeff Howard. The director and writers of Oculus and Absentia add a much-needed dose of personality, elevating it from a cash-in prequel to something much more entertaining and involving.
It’s 1967, and medium Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) is struggling to pay the bills with her carefully constructed and entirely phoney readings, aided by her two daughters: teenage Paulina (Annalise Basso) and young Doris (Lulu Wilson). In an effort to scare up some business, Alice adds a Ouija board to the act, but the family is stunned when spirits from the other side make an appearance.
The amount of fun that Flanagan and his team are obviously having with the period setting is contagious, right from the vintage Universal logo, the fantastic title card and the cigarette burns. It feels like so much more love and care has gone into this. The script takes its time establishing the Zanders’ situation before bringing in the evil spirits, and the use of grief as a main theme gives it a strong emotional anchor.
It helps that the cast is so good. Reaser (Young Adult, Twilight) makes the most of her leading role with a warm and witty performance, and Basso (Oculus, Captain Fantastic) puts in another very strong turn as Paulina, who starts to realise that she’s going to have to step up and make some difficult choices. Much of the film’s scare factor relies on Wilson, and the young actress is a sympathetic and increasingly creepy presence.
Things do get wobbly as the film moves into the final third, as an over-reliance on effects starts to undermine the earlier careful work, and it does feel like the filmmakers are constrained by having to tie it all into the previous film. However, Flanagan does manage to spring some nicely ghoulish surprises as it moves towards its conclusion, and this is a fun, spooky and far superior prequel.