In 1965 Los Angeles, a widowed mother and her two daughters add a new stunt to bolster their seance scam business and unwittingly invite authentic evil into their home. When the youngest daughter is overtaken by a merciless spirit, the family confronts unthinkable fears to save her and send her possessor back to the other side.
Admittedly, I haven’t had the best of relationships with the films of Mike Flanagan. After starting his career directing TV shows and short films, he made a film called Absentia (2011), that got some very good reviews. Personally, I found it to be a crashing bore. He followed that up with a film called Oculus (2013), that once again got some very nice reviews. And once again, I found it to be a crashing bore, I hated it so much that I refer to it as “WTF-ulus”. But then he made a film called Hush (2016), that I actually liked quite a bit. It didn’t do anything new or especially different, but it was well made, and reasonably thrilling. Unfortunately, he followed that up with Before I Wake, which didn’t get the snazziest of reviews. And once again, I found it to be a crashing bore. Now he’s back again, with his third release in 2016 (I believe Before I Wake was to be released last year, but the film’s distributor went bankrupt, so it sat on the shelf for awhile), and it’s a sequel to one of the most critically reviled horror films of recent memory, Quija (2014).
In all honesty, I haven’t seen Quija yet – and I don’t plan to ever watch it. I knew it was gonna be a stinker after the first trailer was released, and I just wasn’t up to spending hard earned cash to see a bad film. But despite all of the negative reviews, Quija went on to make over $100 million dollars worldwide (on a budget of only $5 million dollars), so you just knew that a sequel was coming. It’s called Quija: Origin Of Evil, and having Flanagan come on board as both writer (along with Jeff Howard) and director only made me want to save my money once again. But they do call me the “Lead Theatrical Film Reviewer” here at Horrornews.net, and this did get a theatrical release, so as King Henry said, “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, Once more“.
Taking place in 1967, Quija: Origin Of Evil stars Elizabeth Reaser as Alice Zander, a fortune teller who lives in Los Angeles with her two daughters, teenage Lina (Annalise Basso), and 8 year old Doris (Lulu Wilson). Although Alice performs phony seances to pay the bills, she genuinely wants to help her customers find some kind of peace/closure. She enlists her daughters to help with the scam, but she isn’t making too much money as of late, and bills are piling up. So Alice decides to incorporate a Quija board into the act, but things don’t go quite as well as she planned because the board eventually opens up some kind of supernatural portal. This portal ends up using young Doris as a conduit of sorts, and several spirits use the conduit to cross over, including one that claims to be Alice’s dead husband, Roger. That spirit leads Doris to a secret chamber hidden in the basement of their modest home. But once Doris finds the chamber, her behavior slowly changes, and now Alice’s family is facing a threat from the other side that threatens to consume them all.
I guess I might as well go ahead and admit it, Quija: Origin Of Evil surprised the crap out of me! The script that Flanagan and Howard have put together does a terrific job of reintroducing the board game to the story, but not making it the troublemaker. It only facilitates the problem by being misused (being used alone), and using it in a home that just happens to have a nasty spirit already in it doesn’t help much either. In essence, the Quija board is just doing what it’s supposed to do, if that turns out to be a bad thing, it’s on the user, not the board itself. The film does have a fair share of the prerequisite jump scares, and while I knew some of them were coming, a few of them surprised me. And they never feel cheap or calculated, could it be that Flanagan and Howard actually cared about how/when the jump scares were going to be used? Actually the film is filled with the standard horror movie tropes, but the script never beats you over the head with them, there’s some thought put behind all of this. The script has Alice initially using Doris’ newly discovered powers of clairvoyance to bolster her business, ignoring the ever growing evil implications of it, but the script makes her actions understandable. I never found myself getting angry with Alice, I understood that she wasn’t doing this for personal gain, she was just trying to keep a roof over her children’s head. And Flanagan has obviously done his homework, because as the film proceeded, it felt like I was watching a James Wan film. And by that I mean an intelligent horror film with characters you care about, and made with care and a genuine understanding of the genre.
Flanagan has also gotten some terrifically nuanced performances from his cast as well, with young Wilson giving an incredibly potent performance as Doris. She’s sweet as a gumdrop as the film opens, but as the film continues, and she becomes possessed by the malevolent spirit, she becomes a genuinely chilling force of nature. Wilson is obviously mature beyond her age as far as acting chops go. The always great (But seldom seen as he’s nearly always in some sort of make up) Doug Jones plays the malevolent spirit that inhabits Doris, but we don’t get to see too much of him, so the main focus of the terror is placed squarely on the shoulders of Wilson, and her performance here is one of the best and most committed performances I’ve ever seen from a child actor in any genre of film – not just horror.
Another nifty touch here is the use of 60’s style techniques throughout the film. Opening credits that look/feel like they came from a cheesy horror flick, reel change dots, lens zooms (rather than crane shots) all combine to give the film an enjoyably retro look. Cinematographer Michael Fimognari gives everything a satisfyingly old school sheen, and the music (by The Newton Brothers) adds just the right touch of creepy atmosphere to the proceedings. If there’s anything bad I can say about Quija: Origin of Evil, it’s that it’s very derivative, there isn’t anything especially original going on here. Its homages to The Exorcist and Insidious are obvious, but Flanagan incorporates them into the story so well, I can’t hold it against him. Additionally, the final shot of the film is one for the ages! One that I saw coming, but it still scared all sorts of bodily fluids outta me.
Quija: Origin Of Evil is easily one of the best horror films of the year. Mike Flanagan has taken what could’ve been just another one of those soulless studio sequels made to cater to teens, and created a genuinely scary film that transcends its predecessor by light years. I cannot tell you how much I was expecting to hate it, only to find myself getting nervous and edgy as it slowly worked its way under my skin. I really hoped to use this review to lambast Flanagan, but now I must praise him for making a seriously great horror film. He’s currently working on an adaptation of Stephen King’s novel called Gerald’s Game, and I really didn’t like that book much at all. So I’m hoping that it’s awful as I’m just not comfortable giving the man so much praise. But between Hush, and now this film, I have to bow to the man. If you’re tired of the usual horror sequel, one that has no imagination and is just made to suck your money from out of your wallet, have faith and go see this film as soon as possible. It’s so good that it’ll give you renewed hope for the horror genre.
Quija: Origin Of Evil – 4.25 out of 5 Shrouds.