A mother and her two daughters run a psychic business in hopes of paying the bills on their home after her husband dies. When the mother brings in a ouija board to boost business, she discovers that a door has been opened. Now her youngest daughter is being used as a vessel for the evil forces at work.
This film is a prequel to the 2014 film, and describes the events that took place in the primary house used in the film. While you may not necessarily need to have seen that film in order to see this one, it’s nice to be familiar with the set pieces in the house and connect the two films. Now, to start with, as bad as the original film was, I enjoyed it for what it was; a basic popcorn supernatural flick. I admit I was very skeptical of this one after seeing the trailers. To me it looked like another Conjuring/Insidious clone. However, with Mike Flanagan taking the reins for this entry, I was putting my full faith in him, as his previous films have all been excellent. I was most definitely pleased with the result. What sets this film apart from other films like this, and even its predecessor, is that it focuses more on the story and characters, while throwing in some creepy atmosphere and moments along the way, and it all leads to a pretty intense final act. Yes, you have the possessed girl doing creepy things, saying creepy things, chessy-ish images, and scary figures, but it doesn’t overdo it like so many possession film do. In a sense they are sprinkled here and there. It’s as if it knows what you’re thinking, and better yet, Flanagan paid attention to what people hated about the first. And he’s clearly seen other films like this that are beyond formulaic. We are given a set of character that we grow quite an attachment to and seeing them developed before things begin to happen. The mother is very real and genuine, no demons or alcoholism or depression or any of that nonsense. The two daughters have a close bond, the teenage daughter isn’t snobby or bratty, and the youngest daughter isn’t annoying. You really have a sense of dread for this family and want to see them survive. However, you get this massive sense of dread throughout the film, and a lot of it is thanks to the atmosphere and cinematography. It’s also worth mentioning that even though the set pieces and characters take place in the 60s, the grainy look of the picture is what really gives it a sense of nostalgia. As far as the scares, there are jump scares, but they aren’t accompanied with loud noises. They weren’t really affective, but they were more chilling and spooky, much like the film itself. It doesn’t seek to try to scare you, but instead it focuses more on telling a story of this mother and her daughters while making you feel spooked, intense, and uneasy. While not every horror film will work with this approach, it is a tactic at least worth pursuing with the right material.
Our three leads do a fantastic job in bringing these characters to life. Elizabeth Reaser plays the mom, and as said above she is very real and Reaser greatly exhibits this. We see her struggle with wanting to make ends meet for her family, as well as the loss of her husband. When the events happen, Reaser expresses the fascination of what’s going on, ignoring the changes in the youngest daughter, and eventually we see the fighting mother come out in the final act and you are rooting for her. As the teenager daughter Lina, we have Annalise Basso whom we almost spend more time with than the mother. The emotional range that Basso expresses at seeing her family changing due to these supernatural events is effecting and she carries the film very well. But most of all, the gold star goes to newcomer Lulu Wilson as Doris. I stand firmly when I say that this is the finest performances I’ve seen from a child actor in a long time. Her line delivery is extremely creepy even when it doesn’t sound like it should be, her facial expressions are enough to give you the chills, and prior to the supernatural events you really care apart and feel sorry for her character because of the innocence that Wilson exhibits. And unlike other “creepy children” roles, Wilson never phones it in. She plays it practical and simple.
If you hated the first film, I do recommend you give this one a chance. It has plenty of creepiness and intensity to satisfy the horror fans, but it also gives you an engaging story and characters worth caring about. It’s also backed by the amazing Mike Flanagan with this amazing direction and solid script, as well as the talented cast bringing the characters to life.
PS! There IS a scene after the credits!!!