COLLIDER: The beloved horror director Mike Flanagan is returning to the world of television with the upcoming show The Midnight Club, dropping on Netflix on October 7th. The show itself is actually aimed at a bit of a younger audience than his previous shows, with this being an adaptation of the young adult novel of the same name by Christopher Pike. After The Haunting of Hill House, The Haunting of Bly Manor, and Midnight Mass, this might seem like a disappointment. Those shows and a bevy of the films he directed, are all mature stories that take their time and focus on characters. It’s what makes his work stand out among other modern horror films and TV that focus on jump scares and shock value. But this show isn’t the first time that he has made content for a younger demographic, and he still manages to bring his sense of sophistication that embodies his most recent work.
Chief among his efforts to make a more family friendly horror movie was Ouija: Origin of Evil. At the time, the film was easy to dismiss. It’s a prequel to the 2014 film Ouija which didn’t set the world on fire critically, and it’s blatantly a toy commercial for Hasbro to sell more Ouija boards. And yet within those parameters Flanagan still managed to tell a legitimately well-made horror film that will stick with you. It’s like the horror equivalent of The Lego Movie.
And the best part is, because it’s a prequel it doesn’t necessitate watching the original film. In fact, the movie works better if you don’t know where the characters will end up by the end. It is able to enhance the original while still being standalone.
So, What’s The Movie About?
The movie takes place in the suburbs of LA in 1967 and follows the Zander family making a living as mediums that con people out of money through faking connections with their customers dead loved ones. The mother of the family, Alice (Elizabeth Reaser) is still grieving the recent death of her husband, as are her daughters Lina (Annalise Basso) and Doris (Lulu Wilson). Struggling to make ends meet, Alice decides it’s a good idea to introduce a Ouija board to their seances as a new gimmick. Little does she know that after using the board, it actually worked and contacted an evil spirit that possesses her youngest daughter, Doris.
The rest of the film plays upon the dynamics between the family as they try to work with, and sometimes against each other, to set everything back to normal. To say anything more about the film would give too much away, but needless to say this movie is a bit deeper than the average haunted house movie.
What Makes it Special?
Just like his other projects, Ouija: Origin of Evil lets Flanagan show his deep love and appreciation for all things horror. If Midnight Mass was his love letter to the work of Stephen King, this movie is his love letter to things like Tales from the Crypt, Are You Afraid of the Dark, and Goosebumps. But instead of using that style to poke fun at how cheesy those shows were, he fully accepts and embraces them. He utilizes their tropes and language to tell an earnest story. It’s the type of movie that isn’t ashamed of its source material and inspirations, even if, at it’s core, it’s still just a toy commercial. Embracing the silliness of the concept while still treating it earnestly and seriously is what makes this film stand out as being more than just a cash grab.
It uses familiar imagery. Doris echoes other famous horror characters like the twins in The Shining and Linda Blair in The Exorcist. The haunted house in the suburbs is reminiscent of Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street. And as previously mentioned, the tone is very reminiscent of Goosebumps. And all of these disparate elements come together through the same lens Flanagan uses in all his projects, portraying the characters as real people and exploring their emotional turmoil instead of using them as chess pieces in a larger plot.
Mike Flanagan’s Existential Horror
Whether it’s for families or adults, the real horror behind every Mike Flanagan production is the struggle of existing. All of his characters embody a form of trauma that they are still living with and working through. The plots of all his projects also tend to be literal manifestations of their internal conflict, and is what makes them grow past it.
For Ouija: Origin of Evil, the emotional turmoil is literalized through the haunting of the house. Doris being possessed by the evil spirit embodies Alice’s worries that an outside force, like Child Protective Services, will take her children away from her due to her inability to provide. How the hauntings slowly destroy the lives of Lina and Doris represent how they lost a sense of their childhood after their father passed away. Due to the family grieving and still conducting seances, the film also takes the time to explore how different people react to grief and how those reactions effect their lives going forward.
What’s important is that Flanagan manages to inject just the right amount of this realism while still keeping the tone of the film, for a lack of a better word, fun. While most of his other projects take their time and are much more meditative, this movie is a lean 99-minute roller coaster ride. Which is exactly the right tone for a movie based on a board game. The movie gives just the right amount of realism to not insult the audience's intelligence, while also keeping the tone light enough to enjoy the set pieces and scares.
Where Can I Watch It?
With his past shows and the upcoming The Midnight Club, Netflix has been clear that they want to be in the Mike Flanagan business. Ouija: Origin of Evil is streaming on Netflix along with the vast majority of Flanagan’s filmography. The movie is such a fun and quick watch that it will serve as a great appetizer for his new series.
-By Kevin Tash