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Ouija: Origin of Evil

Another Halloween beckons and with tiresome predictability, another hoary horror rolls off the production line, boasting cheap scares, creaking doors and demonically possessed protagonists whispering in tongues. Mike Flanagan's prequel to the 2014 horror Ouija unfolds almost 50 years before events of the first film and documents the devastation wrought by two girls in 1967 Los Angeles. The titular board game takes centre stage again as the seemingly benign portal to the paranormal. For the uninitiated, Origin Of Evil handily reminds us of the game's three important rules - Never play alone. Never play in a graveyard. Always say goodbye - which characters ignore over the course of a largely shock-free 99 minutes. If you judge a horror purely on its ability to deliver skin-crawling chills, Flanagan's film has only one scene of note in which an eerie child verbalises in exquisite detail the sensation of being strangled to death. Ten-year-old Lulu Wilson delivers this macabre monologue with unnerving intensity, punctuating the final line with a mischievous smirk. In that one moment, the prequel makes the blood run cold. Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) is a charlatan fortune teller, who conducts choreographed seances with her daughters, 15-year-old Paulina (Annalise Basso) and introspective nine-year-old Doris (Wilson). The children perform various special effects - candles blowing out, a shrouded spectre hovering behind a curtain - to give the impression of spirits communicating with the living. One night, Paulina sneaks out to party with friends including older boy Mikey (Parker Mack) and they terrify one another by playing Ouija. "It's really cool!" the girl tells her mother and they introduce the board game and heart-shaped planchette to their act. Little Doris is desperate to make a connection to her late father, Roger (Michael Weaver). "Just because you can't hear him, doesn't mean he isn't there," Alice soothes her daughter. Unperturbed, Doris uses Ouija to speak to Roger. A malevolent spirit gains control of Doris and begins to wreak havoc on the Zander household. As the girl's behaviour becomes increasingly violent, Alice and Paulina abandon their cheap tricks and dive into the spirit realm to save Doris, aided by a local priest (Henry Thomas). Ouija: Origin Of Evil is pedestrian, but Flanagan and his design team evoke the period with elan, replete with TV news coverage of the race to land on the moon. Younger actors have more interesting character arcs to explore, while experienced older cast serve the predictable plot and invariably end up screaming or losing pints of blood. An additional scene during the closing credits neatly ties up narrative threads of the two films, not that anyone from the land of the living should want to linger that long.