Warning: This post contains spoilers for the movie Ouija: Origin of Evil, and the ending of the film is discussed in detail.
For a movie based on a board game, Ouija: Origin of Evil is not playing around. While the retro horror prequel uses Hasbro's sleepover staple as the jumping-off point for a scary story, in the same way 2014's sleeper hit Ouija did, director Mike Flanagan (the guy behind Oculus and Netflix's excellent home-invasion thriller Hush) transports the series to the not-so-swinging suburbia of Los Angeles in 1967. Along with cigarette burns when the reels change, throwback title cards, and other loving film-buff touches, Flanagan also recreates another staple of classic horror movies: the bleak-as-hell ending that guts you right before the credits roll.
Though James Wan's The Conjuring series has proven there's an audience for period horror, Flanagan's nostalgic gambit is a risky one. As box-office analysts have pointed out, the film slightly underperformed over the weekend -- grossing only $14 million compared to the original film's $19 million opening -- but what's more confusing is that despite excellent reviews for a genre film, Ouija: Origin of Evil still received a "C" from audience-polling company CinemaScore, the same rating as the critically reviled 2014 original. It's possible that the ending, which could be alienating to modern audiences, might have something to do with that. This movie will bum you out.
But, just because an ending is downbeat doesn't mean it's bad: The ending to Ouija: Origin of Evil is bleak but also clever, chilling, and genuinely unsettling.
So, what happens?
Ouija: Origin of Evil opens by introducing us to Alice Zander (The Good Wife''s Elizabeth Reaser), a mother who uses her two daughters Lina (Annalise Basso) and Doris (Lulu Wilson) as part of her home psychic business, which provides comfort to grieving parents, widows, and other lonely people looking for a connection to the afterlife. But when Lina suggests her mother use a Ouija board in her act, they quickly discover that the younger sibling Doris possesses genuine psychic abilities. Unlike her charlatan mother, she's got the gift.
As you can guess, things spin out of control. But even as the tension gets carefully increased, Flanagan keeps a steady hand as he playfully riffs on demonic possession, haunted house, and ghost story classics like The Exorcist, The Omen, Poltergeist, and The Changeling. Like any strong cover band, Ouija: Origin of Evil knows how to draw from a range of influences that appeal to casual horror junkies and die-hards alike -- right down to the nail-biting finale.
What makes the ending so bleak? Well, after a series of dramatic confrontations (and, yes, very loud jump-scares) with a local priest, following Doris' full conversion into Damien-esque demon child, Lina finally defeats her possessed younger sister. How does she do it, exactly? By sewing her mouth closed -- a callback to the first film -- and sending those pesky demons back to hell. In an ingenious choice that probably saved his PG-13 rating, Flanagan keeps his camera focused on Lina's anguished face as she threads the needle. The terror of sewing is real.
But that's not all...
The bloodshed doesn't stop there: After killing her sister, Lina becomes possessed by the demon herself, stabbing her mother while under the influence. As Alice dies, she whispers to Lina, "Everyone's waiting." It's a chilling moment: Lina, only a teenager, has effectively killed her sister and her mother in a matter of minutes. She's now all alone in the world. The knowledge of an afterlife is her only comfort.
From there, we flash-forward to Lina's new life in a mental institution, where she seems to have blocked out most of her memories of what went on in the basement on that horrific day. After being taken back to her room, Lina removes a piece of the drywall, pricks her finger, and creates her own Ouija board on the wall from her blood. It's a haunting final image, both kitschy and devastating. We watch as she moves a piece of glass with her hand, desperately trying to communicate with her sister in the afterlife where all her family members wait.
Though the movie ends with Doris appearing on the ceiling of a hallway from one last jump scare (and a post-credits scene that ties the story to the 2014 original), the bloody DIY Ouija board is the image that lingers. That's the real ending to the movie. It's an apt metaphor for what Flanagan did with this film: He recreated the past through his own sweat and blood. It's not uplifting, but it's damn effective.
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