Ouija: Origin of Evil isn’t a sequel to 2014’s Ouija but a do over. Although Ouija made over $100 Million during its theatrical run, the makers of Ouija: Origin of Evil are well aware that fans didn’t feel they got their money’s worth the first time around. “I know that most fans didn’t like the first film,” says Mike Flanagan, the co-writer and director of Origin of Evil, a prequel that takes place in Los Angeles in the 1960s. “I didn’t like it very much either. The only reason I would agree to do a second film was to get the chance to improve upon the first film and take the story in a whole new direction. That’s what I feel we’ve done.”

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In July, I had the chance to talk to Flanagan, best known to genre audiences for his breakthrough 2013 film Oculus, about the approach he took with Ouija: Origin of Evil and his plans for the future, which don’t include being involved with the Halloween franchise.
DG: How did you get involved with the Ouija franchise?
MF: I’ve been working with Jason Blum, who helped with Oculus, for a few years now, and I was involved with Ouija, before they did the reshoots on that film, and I contributed some ideas. That film had a rough journey to completion.
DG: Are you saying that you directed parts of Ouija?
MF: No, no, no. I just helped out in terms of contributing ideas in terms of how they went forward. Ouija had a long post-production phase-it was like a whole other movie. Stiles White directed every scene in that film, as far as I know.

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DG: Look, there’s no nice way of saying this. Even though Ouija did well commercially, it did not fare well critically. Are you aware of the negative reaction that audiences hold toward the first film?
MF: Of course. The first film was far from perfect, which the producers acknowledged, which I admired. There will be a tremendous amount of skepticism from people who didn’t like the first film, and I totally understand where they’re coming from. I understand the skepticism. I had a tremendous amount of skepticism when Brad [Fuller] and Jason contacted me about directing and writing a second Ouija film.
DG: How did they convince you?
MF: They were aware of the issues with the first film, and it would’ve been so easy to just do a sequel and say, “The first movie made over $100 Million, so let’s just make the same film again,” but that’s not what they said. What was appealing to me was the thought of doing a sequel, a second film, and getting a chance to improve on a franchise, to make something better, to do something different. I didn’t think they’d go for it. I wasn’t interested in telling a story about teenagers and having them be killed one by one. We’ve seen that movie too many times, and I wanted nothing to do with that. When I met with Jason, he said, “Tell me the horror movie you’d love to make.” I said that I’d love to do a period piece, set in 1965, with a single mother. I wanted to place the story in a time period where being a single mother was especially challenging.

 

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DG: How did you develop the characters and the story?
MF: I wanted to explore family problems and the bonds between parent and child, which is one of the common themes in my films. I wanted to create three different characters, three female characters, and explore this dynamic in the midst of this evil presence. I wanted to show that PG-13 horror can be scary. Some of my favorite films are PG-13, especially The Changeling, which was my biggest influence when we were making this film. It’s a film that was so subtle and didn’t rely on cheap effects and scares but on atmosphere and drama.
DG: How would you describe the dynamic that exists between this single mother and her daughters in the film?
MF: Elizabeth {Reaser} plays Alice, the mother. Annalise [Basso} is Paulina, the older daughter, and Lulu {Wilson} is Doris, the younger daughter. The husband and father died the year before. He was killed in a car accident. Initially, they look at the Ouija board as a way of reconnecting with the father, but there’s no answer. The older sister is skeptical, but the younger sister believes that the Ouija board is a positive force. She desperately wants to speak to her father.
DG: The mother is a fake psychic?
MF: She runs a fake psychic business, and they believe they’re helping people, which is how they justify taking people’s money. Alice’s mother was a fortune teller in the 1920s, and she’s familiar with that mentality and way of life. They go to great lengths to fool people, but it’s not really a scam. Alice really believes she’s helping people. The girls believe that too. We had a lot of fun showing the mechanics of a séance, which I took from The Changeling.
DG: How does the Ouija board, the evil, manifest in the film?
MF: Doris thinks the power of the Ouija board is real and a good thing. She eventually discovers that what’s behind the Ouija board is not good, and it takes over her body. What happens to Doris is not a possession but a symbiotic experience. Doris thinks, initially, that’s she experiencing an authentic connection that is real and good. She thinks it’s a positive experience, and she ends up getting lost in the Ouija board.
DG: How would you describe the atmosphere and visual tone of the film?
MF: My DP [Michael Figmognari] and I were constantly watching The Changeling in prep, in terms of the look and tone. That’s the look and tone we wanted. We wanted this film to look like it was made in the late 1960s. We used antique zoom lenses, not the floating Steadicam technique that’s used so often today. I wanted to use an antique zoom. We even inserted cigarette burns in between the reel changes. What happens to Doris and in the film reminds me of the film Watcher in the Woods, which is one of my favorite films I saw as a kid, one of the scariest films I can remember seeing. The most terrifying scene in this film is one of the simplest scenes I’ve ever shot. We see Doris, the camera’s right on her, and there are no cuts, and she just speaks softly for a minute. We did a slow zoom for the shot, and then she speaks, and it’s just terrifying.
DG: There’s a rumor that you were attached to direct the next Halloween film?
MF: It’s not true. I think that rumor was born out of my relationship with Jason Blum, so the connection is obvious. After the project was announced, I met with Jason. But it was a brief discussion. I did Ouija: Origin of Evil because I wanted to improve on the first film, and that’s not possible with Halloween, which is a perfect film. I think Jason is going about this the right way, in terms of getting John Carpenter on board and then looking at many different directors. But it’s not going to be me. I’d say that Halloween and The Thing, Carpenter’s version, are the two films that had the greatest impact on me, in terms of making me want to become a filmmaker. Those are two of the most influential films in my life and my development as a filmmaker. I’d be too intimidated to follow in Carpenter’s footsteps. Also, I feel that I’ve already made my Halloween with my previous film Hush.
DG: What’s next for you?
MF: I’ve been trying to do a film version of Stephen King’s novel Gerald’s Game for about fifteen years now. Jeff Howard, my writing partner and the co-writer of Ouija: Origin of Evil, and I have completed a script, and I’m hoping that Ouija: Origin of Evil will make enough money to give me the momentum to make this a reality. It’s a matter of finding the money. We have the rights to the book, and a script. But there’s no studio attached yet. It’s a very precious project, and I don’t want to rush it and do it the wrong way. If I can’t do it the right way, I’d rather not do it. I’ve been in touch with Stephen King, and he’s thrilled with the script.
Ouija: Origin of Evil opens in theaters on October 21, 2016

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