The Bock’s Office: ‘Ouija’ sequel summons spookiness | CraigDailyPress.com

The Bock’s Office: ‘Ouija’ sequel summons spookiness

9-year-old Doris (Lulu Wilson), her mother (Elizabeth Reaser) and priest Father Tom (Henry Thomas) engage in the Ouija board in "Ouija: Origin of Evil." The movie is a prequel to the 2014 film about the occult board game.

Nobody thinks of the term "toy movie" as anything other than pejorative, but just because the name Hasbro is attached doesn't mean a film can't rise above "Transformers," "G.I. Joe" and "Battleship." Sometimes, such as in "Ouija: Origin of Evil," there actually is more than meets the eye.

If you go…

"Ouia: Origin of Evil," rated PG-13

Rating: 2.5 out of 4 stars

Running time: 99 minutes

Starring: Elizabeth Reaser, Annalise Basso, Lulu Wilson and Henry Thomas

Now playing at Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas.

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In 1967, newly widowed mother Alice (Elizabeth Reaser) must make ends meet for her family by setting up shop as Madame Zander, a spiritual medium for hire who will give the grieving closure for $5 per séance.

The sessions, however, are purely smoke and mirrors, thanks to an elaborate system she's rigged up with the help of her daughters, skeptical teen Paulina (Annalise Basso) and 9-year-old Doris (Lulu Wilson).

With business not exactly booming and bills piling up, Alice brings a Ouija board into the routine, planning to use the parlor game as a way to convince her usual customers she's legitimate.

That might be truer than she thinks when Doris begins to show a fascination with the board and signs of a genuine connection to the spirit world, but Alice's joy at her daughter's newfound ability is replaced by terror once the little girl's behavior starts to manifest as something malevolent.

After spending five movies as the matriarch of "The Twilight Saga," Reaser is more than capable of playing an atypical mother, Alice holding a complex set of beliefs.

On one hand, she fully subscribes to the idea that the deceased are communicating with the living with no hesitation in faking the messages she thinks should be passed along, admitting she herself has no clairvoyance.

And yet, she sends her kids to Catholic school. Well, maybe it's a question of proximity.

Or maybe there was no way to write this without getting into full "Exorcist" territory.

Wilson's initial innocence as Doris — friendless, bullied and desperate to reach out to her deceased father — goes from wide-eyed looking through the planchette to disturbingly white-eyed as she is overtaken by darkness, suddenly prone to speaking in others' voices, mentally willing a classmate to shoot himself with his own slingshot and claiming that writing pages and pages of notes in a language she doesn't speak is being done through her.

It's when this Linda Blair for the new generation starts to unhinge her jaw like a snake that you really need to get concerned.

Setting aside the odd element in the script by Mike Flanagan and Jeff Howard that wicked spirits apparently take possession of mortals by forcing themselves in through the mouth, the traditional and simple approach to a horror movie is refreshing in this prequel to 2014's "Ouija," where the rules are key — never play alone, never play in a graveyard and always say goodbye.

Of course, given the genre's parameters, we're obliged to see things through the perspective of a teenager, and Paulina's combative nature with her sister isn't helped much by the younger sibling casually asking her prospective boyfriend (Parker Mack) if he knows what it's like to be strangled to death and then describing it him with a smile.

Ah, the good ol' days of childhood.

Add in a surprisingly permissive priest (Henry Thomas) who tries to intervene in this family's sudden crisis, and you've got the skeleton of the story, with a few good and bad plot points inserted haphazardly by makers who are very insistent on giving us a series.

Nary a scary movie hits the theaters now without the possibility of more of its kind coming, but at least there's some planning and foresight these days.

Considering Hasbro has plans for movies of "Monopoly," "Candy Land" and "Hungry Hungry Hippos," we could have gotten a worse take on the occult with "Origin of Evil." It's a narrative that is pretty easily spelled out, but just like the game where players go into it knowing it's all fake, it's done just well enough to leave you with the sense of uncertainty and morbid curiosity that keeps the horror industry thriving.

Contact Andy Bockelman at 970-875-1793 or Contact Andy Bockelman at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com or follow him on Twitter @TheBocksOffice.Contact Andy Bockelman at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com or follow him on Twitter @TheBocksOffice.

If you go…

“Ouia: Origin of Evil,” rated PG-13

Rating: 2.5 out of 4 stars

Running time: 99 minutes

Starring: Elizabeth Reaser, Annalise Basso, Lulu Wilson and Henry Thomas

Now playing at Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas.