“If you strip away the supernatural elements, you’ll find a family going through something extremely tragic and then extremely frightening,”
Inviting audiences again into the lore of the spirit board, Ouija: Origin of Evil tells a terrifying new tale as the follow-up to 2014’s sleeper hit Oculus.
Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Hush) directs from a screenplay he wrote with his Oculus and Before I Wake collaborator, Jeff Howard.
In 1967 Los Angeles, widowed mother Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser of the Twilight franchise) adds a new stunt to bolster her séance scam business and unwittingly invites authentic evil into her home. When the merciless spirit overtakes youngest daughter Doris (Lulu Wilson of Deliver Us from Evil), this small family confronts unthinkable fears to save her and send her possessor back to the other side.
Origin of Ouija: Uncovering the History
The history of the Ouija board is just as mysterious as the game…
Several different devices were introduced in the mid-1800s to communicate with those who had passed. Building on that fascination and momentum, entrepreneur Charles Kennard and attorney Elijah Bond formed the Kennard Novelty Company to produce and sell “talking boards.”
Legend has it that the company’s founders asked the board what they should name it, and it spelled out “O-U-I-J-A.” When they asked what that word meant, the board spelled “G-O-O-D L-U-C-K.”
Kennard and Bond left the company in the early 1900s, and William Fuld, one of the company’s first employees and stockholders, took over and continued producing Ouija boards. The game’s popularity continued to grow, so much so that by the 1920s Norman Rockwell featured a couple with an Ouija board on their knees on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post.
After Fuld’s death in 1927, his children took over the game’s production until 1966 when Fuld’s estate sold the Ouija board assets to Parker Brothers, who began to manufacture the game as we know it today. In 1991, Hasbro acquired Parker Brothers and continues to bring the game to new generations of Ouija fans looking to experience the mystery of the talking board.
Exploding the Universe: Production Begins
When developing Ouija: Origin of Evil, Blumhouse Productions’ Jason Blum and Platinum Dunes’ Michael Bay, Brad Form and Andrew Fuller were excited to work with Hasbro Studios on the opportunity to expand dramatically the cryptic world of the mystical board. For this terrifying chapter that would explore the origin of evil in one small town, they would be trusting the franchise with a filmmaker known for work that is as innovative as it is heart-racing.
The production team approached visionary filmmaker Mike Flanagan, who created Blumhouse’s 2014’s hit Oculus and this year’s hold-your-breath thriller Hush. They gauged his interest in crafting a chapter that delved into so much more of the legend of the board…as well as putting his unique stamp on the series.
Flanagan felt it would be fascinating to explore the superstitious culture of the late 1960s’ Ouija for this chapter, as well as what secrets laid buried beneath one family’s home…only to be unlocked through the board. The horror maestro and his equally talented writing partner, Jeff Howard, imagined the tale of Doris and Lina Zander, who grow terrified the more they learn about the family home they share with their mother, Alice.
Blum explains that when Alice begins using the Ouija board in her séances, she thinks it’s great for business. He notes: “In the beginning, Alice is not discovering anything evil, and it actually seems like it’s a great thing. She thinks that she’s performing this amazing service where—if you have someone in your life who’s gone—you can come use the Ouija board and connect with them. Through Doris you can talk to people who are no longer with us in this world. Initially it seems like it’s not only good for business, but good for people too.”
“There was a lot of discussion about making a direct sequel to the first film and expanding upon that narrative,” explains Form, “but that felt like the easy answer. When we took a hard look at the source material, we began to see that the story was right in front of us. Who was the real ‘DZ’ who was haunting our characters in the first movie, and what had been done to her so long ago that turned her into the twisted spirit seeking out revenge upon anyone who inhabited her home?”
Fuller, who serves as Bay and Form’s production partner at Platinum Dunes, shares how the film’s dramatic themes appeal to a broad base of moviegoers, and that it was of utmost importance to all involved to make this a story about a broken family…and not just a ghost story. “If you strip away the supernatural elements, you’ll find a family going through something extremely tragic and then extremely frightening,” he says. “Audiences who wouldn’t necessarily seek out a horror film will connect to this character-driven story.”
When approaching the script, Howard and Flanagan aimed to connect certain story points, while crafting their own unique storyline that fit within the Ouija-verse. “We picked out the seeds of the story that audiences responded to in the first film and allowed them to grow,” explains Flanagan. “The challenge was balancing how to tell a brand new story while creating continuity between the films.”
To do that, filmmakers delved into the creation of the first movie’s evil. “I would love a movie about Samara before she was a wicked creature crawling out of the well in The Ring,” says Flanagan. “For me, the journey between those two points is fascinating and rarely explored in horror films.”
So notes Form, a thriller centered on a Ouija board made the perfect vehicle for relatable horror. “The idea that we could wrap a film around this intense desire to contact those on the other side was irresistible, and Ouija boards are so specific to that,” he explains. “Even people who don’t believe in spirits have such a strong reaction to the game. This game has the power to turn non-believers into believers, even if only for a moment.”
Blum speaks for the team when he advises that Flanagan was the perfect director to helm a project that worked so well within Blumhouse’s micro-budget model. “Mike is that rare combination of someone with a strong point of view and vision, but he’s also able to take notes and curve balls better than almost anyone I’ve ever worked with. When you’re doing extreme characters in an extreme story, you have to trust the person in charge because it can be a fine line between scary and funny. In Mike’s hands, you are absolutely on the safe side of being scary and you’re working within a deeper, layered story.”
To craft a character-driven thriller, Flanagan and Howard first approached the script as period drama about a single mother and her daughters. “For the first 45 minutes, The Exorcist is a drama; there’s nothing supernatural. The film connects you to the characters and allows you to relate to their reality, so when the horror happens, it grabs people by the throat,” says Flanagan. “I was thrilled to create a story around a family whose lives and business are built around contacting the dead, because I found that dynamic so fascinating.”
To continue to challenge the expectations of seasoned fans of horror, the writing duo played with the genre’s more predictable rhythms. “If audiences hear three seconds of silence after a line, they’re already anticipating the jump scare,” notes Flanagan. “They already know when the beat hits, so it’s imperative to find the unexpected. The scares in this film feel more spontaneous, like jazz.”
One ubiquitous element the thriller required was a priest. Fuller explains Father Tom’s presence: “Roger Ebert once wrote that if you’re dealing with demonic possession, you need a Catholic priest—no other faith seems to cut it.”
The writers put a spin on the familiar trope by making Father Tom charming and attractive, so that he could serve as a theoretical love interest for Alice. “One of my favorite scenes shows Alice and Father Tom out to dinner, and Lina and her crush Mikey [PARKER MACK] in her bedroom. We cut between a teen girl’s first kiss to two adults who share a spark, but life has taken them on different paths,” states Blum. “It’s juxtaposing the possibility of young love with an adult relationship that takes the realities of life into account.”
In fact, Father Tom’s character is based on a priest Flanagan knew during his 12 years as an altar boy. The director explains: “Father Stack had an empathy for people I believed was only possible if you had lived an intense life prior to the priesthood. I later learned he was engaged to a woman and always wondered about his massive change of trajectory.”
Art imitating life, the film reveals Father Tom’s wife died long ago, and his tragic loss was the impetus that led to the priesthood. Suspicious of Doris’ “gifts,” Tom asks her to contact his wife through the Ouija board and discovers the evil game that the spirits are playing on the Zander family.
To convince Alice of the deception, he quotes John, Chapter Four: Verse One: “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
By the time Alice sees the darkness that has taken over Doris, however, it might be too late for anyone who steps foot in their house…
“What really spoke to me about this movie is how it explores grief and that strong desire to see or talk to someone we’ve lost, even just once more,” says Elizabeth Reaser . “In many ways, this film isn’t simply a horror movie, which is what makes it so terrifying. These characters don’t know what is happening to them because they’re already dealing with a loss so devastating…they can’t fathom life could get worse.”