Halloween comes early for horror fans this year, and Christmas too, because there is a Ouija movie dropping this week and it doesn't suck. In fact, Ouija: Origin of Evil is one of those rare sequels that bests the original and might be the tipping point for what will hopefully be a solid supernatural B-movie franchise.
But first, some history, in case you aren't from the generation where parents were quite happy to let their children hunker down in the dark and entertain themselves with a potentially demonic occult board game — "So long as they're out of our hair right? Bitchin', now reload that bong." (Note to Millennial kids: the late '70s and early '80s were actually even more awesome than they look in Stranger Things.)
The commercial Ouija board, as we know it, was introduced in 1890 but "talking boards" or "spirit boards" with numbers, letters and an automatic moving planchette can be traced back to ancient India, Greece, Rome, medieval Europe and 1100 AD China. With no Instagram, sharing ideas around the world was extremely tricky in those days (homing pigeons didn't even really hit the scene until 1150 AD in Iran) so it's highly likely that the reason for the wide-spread proliferation of haunted talking spirit boards in all corners of the planet is because they are a legit, real thing.
Think about it — the average life expectancy hovered between 30 to 40 years years old until the late 1800s. Which meant there were likely a lot of spirits floating around pissed off that they didn't get to do even one-third of the things on their bucket lists. Granted, religion was big back in the day so many souls probably did just gratefully slide into heaven/Valhalla/wherever (or fall screaming into hell) but you gotta think there were at least a few lonely souls left lingering outside the gate thinking, "Really? That was my life? Scurvy and the clap at age 14?! No way, I'm going back for another look."
And the best way for those lost souls to reconnect with the living was likely through the Ouija boards — way less effort (and risk) than a demonic possession, that's for sure.
It hasn't been easy, of course. The perpetually terrified religious types have always been down on the Ouija because they hate all forms of divination (except their own, of course), and there's never been a shortage of scientists throwing shade at the Ouija with their fancy words like "ideomotor response" and "unconscious muscular response." It's very likely, however, that these scientists were also the kids who always got "No" when they asked the Ouija board if so-and-so-cutie-pie had a crush on them. "Prejudicial conclusions" — how's that for a science word, eh? Also, science is just another cult if you look at it from high enough up.
In any case, the spirits won in the end because talking boards and Ouija became a staple of childhood slumber parties, popular culture, and even played a healing role in early iterations of Bill Wilson's Alcoholics Anonymous program. While many would contend that the board peaked in badassery with the song "Mr. Ouija" on the first Bone Thugs n Harmony album back in 1994, it's entirely possible that Ouija: Origin of Evil will set a new bar.
Accomplished horror director Mike Flanagan (Absentia, Hush) nails the slick camerawork, jump scares and classic horror imagery viewers expect (creepy little girl crawling up the stairs!) but where he differs from his contemporaries is how he integrates the human element into the film. All that scary shit matters so much more when we're emotionally invested in the people it's happening to. Flanagan gives us real people, real terror, and the board itself is not the star of Ouija: Origin of Evil. Instead, it's the key to one of most traumatic unholy home invasions we've seen in a while.
It's just a movie, of course, and a damn fun one at that. But the truth, the real truth, about Ouija is yes, there definitely are ghosts and spirits and things that go bump in the night. And they laugh at us when we masturbate.