Have there ever been entertainment-media product tie-ins like the Ouija movies? The shriekingly enjoyable Ouija: Origin of Evil, like its less successful 2014 predecessor Ouija, lays out as its best case that the toy it's advertising will destroy your life, maybe kill your family and damn your very soul. 30 years ago, that idiot Geraldo Rivera terrified America into believing that Dungeons & Dragons was feeding young people to Satan. Now, in a series of un-gory but surprisingly grim junior horror films, Hasbro is promising it.
The new Ouija, set 50 years before whatever happened in the previous Ouija, summons up in an early scene the shivery pleasure of actual Ouija. Unsupervised teens -- probably drunk and stoned, though this PG-13 production shies from acknowledging it -- dim the lights, lay fingers on the pointing "planchette" and enlist the spirit realm to aid in flirting. The exuberant crowd of young people I saw this with read the board's responses out loud in unison.
That's a rare level of engagement from teen viewers with a studio time-killer, further evidence that horror films encourage a less passive viewership than, say, summer's superhero dustups. (They're also more honest about violence: It's horrific, even in a bloodless entry like this.) Origin of Evil demands and rewards attentiveness, inviting scrutiny of its frames, study of its negative space. Director/co-writer/editor Mike Flanagan (Hush, Oculus) isn't innovating here. But he's a skilled showman adept at staging and pacing scares so that their jolts amuse rather than upset. He understands the thrill of being the first in a crowd to spot the movement in the shadows behind a movie character.