I’m not at all surprised that a sequel to the abysmal Ouija happened (that movie, somehow, made a ridiculous amount of money), but I am surprised that it attracted the talent of Mike Flanagan—the director of Absentia, Oculus, and Hush was an exciting choice to helm an unexciting sequel. If you compare Flanagan’s Origin of Evil to its predecessor, you unarguably have a much better film because it at least made an attempt to be scary. However, if you look at it on its own (which I am), it’s mostly a mixed bag. In it, a widowed mother and her two daughters add a new stunt to bolster their seance scam business and unwittingly invite authentic evil into their home.
Right away you can tell the kind of approach that Flanagan is taking with the sequel—there’s a sort of playfulness to it that reminded me of the original Poltergeist, which I’ve always thought was a wonderful way to tell a ghost story. So many movies these days (especially big studio pictures) try so hard to be scary throughout the entire narrative that they never give the audience time to really settle in and anticipate the actual horror of the story. And Flanagan absolutely nails that tone perfectly, creating an atmosphere that’s inviting and deceptively friendly–the way the family interacts with the spirit brings them happiness, and it’s Flanagan’s way of manipulating the audience into buying that there’s a calm before the storm.
The first act of the film is about as good as you could hope for—the playful tone that’s established in the beginning slowly starts to lean into something sinister, which sets up the rest of the story perfectly. The problem, however, is that the film gets away from itself and becomes just another over-the-top haunted house movie where a little kid gets possessed. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing (horror movies have, and always will, do this), but where Origin of Evil struggles is that it doesn’t do anything interesting with the concept at all.
As soon ahe youngest daughter turns into a vessel for this evil spirit, the film becomes unintentionally goofy. The performance was wooden and unconvincing, which never (even for a second) translated into something scary. I don’t know who thinks a wide-mouthed little girl is creepy, but it certainly wasn’t the first time she did it nor the many, many times that followed. Rather than use the legitimately creepy ghost design—a ghost that we see for maybe 20 seconds—it instead uses this little girl to carry the entire weight of the film’s horror. It’s unfortunate, but Origin of Evil would have been a much stronger movie had this not been the case.
Good horror is a tough thing to pull off; you can have great characters and a solid story (which this one has), but if your monster doesn’t do its job then what’s the point? The movie has been getting some good reviews and it’s easy to see why—to the casual horror fan, this is a serviceable haunter that has some fun jump scares and a few legitimately creepy scenes (mostly in the beginning), but outside of that it doesn’t really offer anything new and its monster, the possessed little girl, is about as bland as it gets.