As a movie, Ouija is as silly and flimsy as your average store-bought Ouija board.
In Ouija, young Laine Morris (Olivia Cooke) finds herself rocked by tragedy when she loses her best friend Debbie (Shelley Henning). Unable to accept the circumstances of Debbie’s death, Laine begins investigating for an answer, and soon discovers a mysterious old Ouija game board amongst Debbie’s possessions.
Remembering the game she and Debbie used to play as kids, Laine ropes her friend Isabelle (Bianca A. Santos), sister Sarah (Ana Coto), boyfriend Trevor (Daren Kagasoff) and Debbie’s boyfriend Pete (Douglas Smith) into a Ouija séance, in hopes of making contact with Debbie’s spirit. However, as can happen when dealing with the dead, things quickly go awry, and Laine and Co. soon find that the doorway they’ve opened has let a malevolent spirit loose – one that’s coming for each and every one of them.
The latest in the trend of board games movies, Ouija is something that one might call “high-concept” only in irony – because like Battleship before it, this film proves to be anything but. A ridiculous premise, stilted and cheesy script, wooden acting, and cheap, clichéd scares throughout; as a movie, Ouija is as silly and flimsy as your average store-bought Ouija board.
Director/co-writer Stiles White and his longtime writing partner Juliet Snowden have penned quite a few lackluster genre flicks (Knowing, The Possession, Boogeyman) and this film is pretty much on par with their other work. We get a sloppy premise; unclear mythos; heaps of bad dialogue (often hilariously so); poor logic and more focus on dumb scare tactics and twists than on any kind of actual character or thematic development. In short: the script is a major fail.
Visually, White manages to craft some nicely tense and spooky sequences – but rarely knows how to complete them in an effective manner. Great tracking sequences end in the most tired and worn out bait-and-switch jump scares (oh, it’s just your friend behind the door!) – and great build ups often fizzle out with no pay off at all. It’s like getting a joke with no punchline: frustrating – or even worse, boring.
On the positive side, White does manage to create a pretty good spooky atmosphere and makes more good use out of a haunted house setting than many other films in the sub-genre. Ouija is at its best when it goes full ghost on us, using the creative freedom of the supernatural to pull off some inspired frights. Unfortunately, like the ghostly spirits of the story, the film itself is forever chained to the need to push the Ouija board product to the forefront. You could almost make a drinking game out of how many instances where normal (and already imperfect) filmmaking logic is derailed by a promotional obligation. And yet, with some better planning and execution of sequences (and a much better editor), White could conceivably grow into being a solid director.
The actors caught in the middle of the mess do what they can with this hollow product – but ultimately that hollowness shows through. TV vets like Cooke (Bates Motel), Smith (Big Love), Kagasoff (Secret Life of the American Teenager) and Henning (Teen Wolf) have all proven themselves when handed better material – but those accomplishments don’t show when they are forced to recite dialogue even they seem to know is ridiculous. Only relative newcomer Ana Coto (DisCONNECTED) has the fire to make her punk rebel sister character worth keeping an eye on; the rest of the principal cast are basically a generic assembly of horror movie teen victims.
Ouija does get a shot in the arm from actress Lin Shaye (There’s Something About Mary, Insidious), who shows up late in the second act for a fun bit part that actually restores some of the movie’s wasted potential. (Until out comes that stupid board again…) Another horror hat-tip is made by including Paranormal Activity 2‘s superstitious housekeeper in the mix – actress Vivis Colombetti – but this film makes almost no use of her, other than sticking her with some of the worst dialogue the script can muster (and in this case, that’s saying something).
Film fans wondered from the start what a Ouija Board movie could possibly be about – and judging from the final product (keyword), it seems the filmmakers never really figured out a good answer to that question either. Board game or toy movies can be inspired twists on familiar products (see: Clue, The Lego Movie), but Ouija is definitely not one of those cases. Maybe when given the chance to tell an actual cinematic story – rather than pushing product – better things will come from Stiles White.
Ouija is now in theaters. It is 89 minutes long and is Rated PG-13 for disturbing violent content, frightening horror images, and thematic material.
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