REVIEW: OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL

★ ★ ★

Ever since a Ouija Board connected Captain Howdy to Regan MacNeil in “The Exorcist” filmmakers have used the spirit boards as a way to plunge their characters into deep demonic trouble.

In 2014 a group of friends uncorked some supernatural woes in “Ouija.” Now comes a prequel (insert spooky Theremin music here), “Ouija: Origin of Evil.” Set almost fifty years before the events of the first film, the action takes place in 1967 Los Angeles.

Looking for a way to freshen up their sham séance business Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) a.k.a. Madame Zander Fortune Teller and her daughters Paulina (Annalise Basso) and Doris (Lulu Wilson) run a home séance business, specializing in parlour tricks to comfort the living relatives of the recently deceased. “We give them closure,” says Alice. “We heal their hearts and you can't do that without some showmanship.”

To freshen up their act and attract new customers Alice adds in a Ouija Board.  “What this?” asks Doris. “A new prop for work,” replies Alice cheerily. What she doesn’t know is that the harmless looking board is also a gateway for demons and all manner of unspeakable supernatural strife.  

When young Doris uses the witchboard to contact her dear, departed father she becomes possessed by a most unwelcome spirit. “I believe she is channelling powers,” says Father Tom Hogan (Henry Thomas), “we cannot understand.”

Is “Ouija: Origin of Evil” a vast improvement on the 2014 original? The planchette (the Ouija’s triangular cursor) points to Yes. “Ouija” was one of the lamest mainstream horror films of recent memory, its prequel is one of the best.

Director Mike Flanagan provides jumps scares, creepy visions and a suitably spooky visualization of the demonic possession but brings generally more atmosphere than actual thrills. Instead he builds tension throughout, slowly working up to a ghost story climax that delivers solid scares.

He’s aided greatly by the youngest member of his cast, Lulu Wilson, who has a face that switches instantly from endearing to eerie. As the spirits possess her she takes on a creepy kid face that could win her an award for weirdest kid since “Children of the Corn.”

Add in some Nazi doctors, spirits nosier than whoever is spying on you through your iPhone right now and a mysterious hole in the basement wall and you have a welcome addition to the Ouija Board genre.