The unusual horror sequel made with considerably more wit, craft, and imagination than its predecessor, “Ouija: Origin of Evil” feels less like the continuation of a budding franchise than an apology for what went wrong the primary time. Writer-director Mike Flanagan takes over the artistic reins from Helmer Stiles White and institutes a welcome theatrical shift from the role terrorized teens plot of 2014’s “Ouija.” And yet as much as Flanagan does to set his film apart, the follow-up is eventually bogged down by the backstory baggage it’s forced to deliver.
Michael Fimognari’s graceful deep-focus camerawork blends a nostalgic feel with contemporary technology and builds tension with disturbing bits of business unfolding in the background or extreme foreground of scenes. Flanagan’s own cutting delivers recurrent jolts through jump scares, and unlike the monotonous fake-outs of “Ouija,” there’s usually something on screen to justify the tactic here.
Flanagan works his soundtrack over, but with co-writer Jeff Howard he sets so much bizarre narrative running – mom’s disenchanted relationship with a priest, unsettled paternity issues, and Doris’s overnight grasp of Polish – that he doesn’t have to rely on loud noises to capture the attention.
Arguably he’s caught trying too tough. The final movement doesn’t tie matters up so much as spiral outwards into schlocky incoherence. Still, the procedure is upended somewhat: this time, the Ouija board itself is a trivial player, less a piece of obligatory product placement than a springboard for ideas, be it wayward or workable. It’s still no scarier than any branded content, and perhaps only the most lukewarm slumber party would truly need it. Yet if it is questioned that whether Origin of Evil offers a better quality of time-wasting than its predecessor, the answer would be YES.