Mike Flanagan Elevates Horror Sequels with ‘Ouija: Origin of Evil’
Once upon a time, filmmaker Mike Flanagan showed little interest in delving into the world of horror sequels. Known for creating spine-chilling classics like Absentia, Oculus, Hush, and Before I Wake, he had publicly declared his aversion to sequels and remakes in a 2016 interview with Esquire.
However, the financial success of Universal Pictures’ 2014 release, “Ouija,” which despite poor critical reception managed to rake in $103 million globally against a modest $5 million budget, left the studio hungry for a sequel. In a creative quandary, Universal executives teamed up with Jason Blum of Blumhouse Productions, who had co-produced Flanagan’s Oculus, in search of a director capable of remedying “Ouija’s” missteps.
Despite Flanagan’s initial reluctance, Blum offered him unprecedented creative freedom. This marked the birth of “Ouija: Origin of Evil,” Flanagan’s fifth feature film and his first major studio project.
With these creative constraints lifted, Flanagan set out to create a period piece that could stand alone, irrespective of its poorly received predecessor. The result was nothing short of extraordinary. While “Ouija” had scraped by with a dismal 5% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, “Origin of Evil” soared to an impressive 84% consensus.
In a world where sequels often falter, Flanagan’s “Ouija: Origin of Evil” defied the odds, turning a lackluster prequel into a cinematic gem.
What Is ‘Ouija: Origin of Evil’ About?
“Ouija: Origin of Evil” outshines its predecessor, “Ouija,” thanks to the directorial expertise of Mike Flanagan. His strengths in character development, atmospheric storytelling, and the seamless blending of psychological horror with the supernatural are evident throughout the film.
The movie features an exceptional cast, with Elizabeth Reaser as Alice Zander and Annalise Basso and Lulu Wilson as her daughters, Lina and Doris. Following the tragic death of Alice’s husband, the family turns to a séance scam to make ends meet. Their intentions are pure – offering solace to those grieving by faking connections with departed loved ones. Despite Alice’s discomfort, the demands of supporting her daughters and dealing with a looming foreclosure keep her in the act.
Things take a dark turn when Lina introduces a Ouija board, and Doris starts hearing voices, believing they are her father’s. However, it becomes clear that their home is not just haunted by one spirit but many tortured souls. A dark history is unveiled – a Nazi doctor’s gruesome experiments, with the remains of victims hidden within the basement walls. These trapped souls, along with malevolent entities, torment the family, even resisting the efforts of the kind-hearted school priest, Father Thomas.
“Ouija: Origin of Evil” is a masterful blend of psychological horror and the supernatural, keeping audiences captivated and on the edge of their seats as the Zander family grapples with malevolent forces in their home.
Mike Flanagan Made ‘Ouija: Origin of Evil’ Entirely His Own
While discussing the promotion of Ouija: Origin of Evil, Mike Flanagan commended Universal and Jason Blum for their hands-off approach, emphasizing their priority of crafting a quality film rather than rigidly adhering to connections with the original movie. In an interview with Esquire, Flanagan revealed, “The connections to the first movie weren’t as important to them as making a good movie.” This refreshing perspective played a crucial role in Flanagan’s decision to take on the project, allowing him to enter a franchise without being constrained by the established rules of its predecessor.
Flanagan also stressed the significance of the period setting for this prequel sequel. He drew inspiration from cinematic classics such as The Exorcist and The Changeling to shape his creative approach. Cinematographer Michael Fimognari opted for a unique visual style by using “antique lenses” and in-camera zooms in lieu of traditional Steadicams or dolly shots. In the post-production phase, they deliberately introduced visual imperfections and audio cues to mimic the aesthetics of a 1960s film reel. The film even begins with the iconic Universal Pictures logo and a superimposed title card, setting the tone for a nostalgic cinematic experience.
Mike Flanagan’s goal with Origin of Evil was to recreate the sense of wonder and terror he felt when he first encountered horror movies. In this installment, Flanagan returns to his roots of haunted houses and demonic possession, but this time with the benefit of a wealth of experience that comes from being a seasoned professional rather than an aspiring amateur.
‘Ouija: Origin of Evil’ Has Everything That Makes Mike Flanagan Great
In the hands of a less skilled filmmaker, a loving homage like “Ouija: Origin of Evil” might have struggled with its narrative structure. However, this film, directed by Mike Flanagan, skillfully maintains its storytelling focus. It embraces its vintage style without overwhelming the audience with distractions. The meticulous attention to detail in the production design and the warm color grading contribute to the film’s overall mood, giving it a unique and captivating identity. In the context of 21st-century horror, “Ouija: Origin of Evil” shares similarities with both “The Conjuring” and “The Exorcist.” It ensures that the audience becomes emotionally invested in the characters, treating them as individuals rather than mere fodder for voyeuristic victimization. Flanagan’s commitment to crafting well-developed characters was paramount in the making of “Origin of Evil.” He explained, “At its most basic level, the genre can resort to using archetypal characters, placing them in perilous situations, and disposing of them one by one. But it can’t make you genuinely care.”
What sets “Origin of Evil” apart and makes it particularly enjoyable is Flanagan’s recurring theme of placing strong female protagonists at the core of the story. The film revolves around a 9-year-old, a 15-year-old, and a 40-something woman, each coping with grief and facing adult responsibilities while navigating the universal challenges of teenage life. Flanagan expressed his desire to create a movie centered around a single mother and featuring three dynamic female leads, and he succeeds admirably in doing so. The characters of Alice, Lina, and Doris are multi-dimensional and relatable. Flanagan achieves this by highlighting moments such as Alice silently calculating their limited finances and Lina’s exhilaration after experiencing her first kiss. Despite her classmates’ cruelty regarding her old uniform skirt, Doris does not resent her mother for their modest means. Lina’s rebellious escapades into partying, drinking, and flirting are contrasted with the mature conversations she has with her mother, tackling issues that no teenager should have to confront. The Zanders’ circumstances elicit sympathy without evoking pity. During the film’s dramatic climax, subtle details like Alice’s smeared mascara convey as much emotion as the characters’ heart-wrenching sobs. Just as legendary horror classics like “The Exorcist” did, Mike Flanagan’s emphasis on character development over genre conventions intensifies the audience’s empathy for the Zanders and magnifies the impact of their complex relationships.
The PG-13 rating for “Ouija: Origin of Evil” forced director Mike Flanagan to depart from his usual gore-heavy style and find more restrained ways to elicit scares. This challenge proved to be a welcomed one for Flanagan, who admitted to Esquire, “I’m naturally drawn towards the extreme side of things by gravity. So it’s refreshing to self-impose constraints and say, ‘I want maximum impact, but I’ll have to achieve that through atmosphere and timing, rather than relying on shock and gore.” The film successfully demonstrates that it doesn’t need excessive blood and violence to be effective. Flanagan’s ability to navigate within the confines of the PG-13 rating pays homage to the ingenuity of classic horror films like “Psycho,” while also drawing inspiration from films like “Poltergeist” (another movie he studied for “Ouija: Origin of Evil”), known for pushing the limits of its rating. The most unsettling moments in the film are of a psychological nature, with imagery like Doris’ all-white eyes, her mouth sewn shut with flesh, and a gooey black figure thrusting its arm down her screaming mouth. These visuals are striking in their eerie wrongness. However, even the subtle violence in Mike Flanagan’s work serves a purpose, as every disconcerting moment contributes to the scaffolding that supports the tragic conclusion of “Origin of Evil,” where almost everyone faces dire consequences. Flanagan skillfully extracts remarkably realistic emotions from his cast, elevating the film beyond typical horror tropes.
“Ouija: Origin of Evil” marked a pivotal moment in Mike Flanagan’s career, not due to a change in content but in terms of funding and public recognition. The film allowed Flanagan to blend his already-established reputation within the horror community with the resources of Universal Pictures. In the same year that “Origin of Evil” graced the theaters, Netflix released “Hush,” and two years later, Flanagan’s true breakthrough came with “The Haunting of Hill House.” While “Ouija: Origin of Evil” might appear as an unusual entry in Flanagan’s filmography, it is far from being an outlier. This prequel-sequel to a poorly received original film stands as another standout work in a string of impressive creations, characterized by Flanagan’s signature themes that continuously evolve and never grow stale. Much like “Absentia,” “Oculus,” and “The Haunting of Hill House,” the true horrors at play in “Origin of Evil” revolve around grief and loneliness rather than just the presence of a possessed girl whispering in someone’s ear (though that remains undeniably terrifying).
Ouija: Origin of Evil is available to stream on Netflix
- Flanagan’s Horror Sequel Transformation: The article begins by discussing how filmmaker Mike Flanagan, known for his original horror classics, initially avoided horror sequels but was drawn into Universal Pictures’ sequel for “Ouija” due to its financial success. He was given unprecedented creative freedom, leading to the creation of “Ouija: Origin of Evil,” which proved to be an extraordinary improvement over its predecessor.
- The Film’s Plot and Unique Approach: The article explores the plot of “Ouija: Origin of Evil,” emphasizing Flanagan’s strengths in character development, atmospheric storytelling, and the seamless blend of psychological and supernatural horror. It delves into the film’s strong female protagonists and the director’s commitment to crafting well-developed characters.
- Flanagan’s Artistic Achievements and Career Milestone: It discusses how Flanagan’s creative approach, despite a PG-13 rating, pays homage to classic horror films while maintaining a unique and captivating identity. It highlights Flanagan’s career turning point and how “Ouija: Origin of Evil” marked a significant moment in his journey, as he successfully blended his reputation in the horror community with major studio resources.
Micajah McGregor, Editor in Chief of FanFest.com and renowned entertainment journalist, graduated from USC with a focus on Journalism and Film Studies. With an MBA from The Wharton School, he began his career at “PopCulture Pulse” and has been instrumental in shaping FanFest into a prime entertainment news source. Known for his financial analysis of celebrity net worths, Micajah received the ‘Digital Editor of the Year’ award in 2018. He’s also an active blogger, sharing his passion for superhero films and ’90s TV. Contact him at [email protected] for engaging entertainment insights.