Ouija (Movie Review)

Ouija (Movie Review)
4 10

PLOT: After the mysterious suicide of their friend, a group of high schoolers attempt to contact her via ouija board in order to understand her decision. They inadvertently unleash a deadly spirit that subsequently terrorizes them.

REVIEW: If that plot synopsis seems a little generic, well, I do what I can with what OUIJA gives me. Generic is the word of the day with this PG-13 thriller, which is certainly not the worst of its kind, but it's far from the best. Less demanding horror fans may find a few scary bits and effective jump-scares, but serious horror hounds need not apply, for they'll get nothing out of OUIJA's familiar atmosphere and risk-free narrative. (Although I'm guessing the serious fans checked out the moment they saw the trailer.)

The prologue sets the stage: Cute blonde Debbie (Shelley Hennig) has been acting strange lately, concerning her best friend Laine (Olivia Cooke of "Bates Motel" fame). Maybe it's the ouija board she's been playing with alone at night? Doesn't she know one of the board's main rules is never play alone? She finds out the hard way: she hangs herself unexpectedly. This is a mucho bummer to Laine and boyfriend Trevor (Daren Kagasoff), Debbie's boyfriend Pete (Douglas Smith) and other bestie Isabelle (Bianca Santos). The death is so shocking that the group feels there are unresolved issues to be uncovered, so off to the ouija board they go, ignoring the fact Debbie issued Laine an ominous warning about the thing hours before killing herself.

You know where it goes from here. The group makes contact with a spirit they initially think is Debbie, but when creepy messages begin appearing everywhere ("Hi friend!"), they figure out it's not their passed friend but something else. Fast-forward to the patented "they've unleashed something!" moment, and after a few bits of helpful exposition from an old woman in a nursing home (Lin Shaye, always reliable) as well as the token wise Hispanic grandmother (Vivis Colombetti), the group struggles to put back into the bottle whatever they've uncorked.

Ouija Movie Review Olivia Cooke Stiles White Juliet Snowden Michael Bay

OUIJA is often just going through the motions, recycling horror visuals from a dozen other movies - plenty of images of people with their mouths stitched close, wide-mouthed ghosts who scream hysterically, creepy dolls - while barely eking out a handful of adequate scares. I jumped twice, and both times were "fake" scares, so that's telling you something. Like so many other cliched genre efforts, the plot necessitates that the characters act in as predictable and foolish ways as possible - hence we have Horror Movie characters doing and saying Horror Movie things, being confronted by Horror Movie standbys like doors that suddenly close on their own, flickering lights, loud banging, the works. The rules of the ouija board and the spirit it unleashes are incredibly arbitrary, and once we learn what the spirit "wants," we're not very impressed because what do all evil ghosts want in these movies? To be free! Well, that and to scare the shit out of the main characters. Don't you ever wonder why these demonic forces don't aim higher?

Let it be known, I'm not automatically against these ghost-heavy PG-13 efforts; even this film's creative team - Stiles White and Juliet Snowden - penned a pretty decent one a few years ago, THE POSSESSION. But that film had an extra layer of intrigue courtesy of its adult characters, two separated parents struggling to get along while also dealing with the unraveling of their daughter (it helped that they were all very good actors). OUIJA, on the other hand, delivers yet another batch of teenagers who appear to have no lives outside of playing with a ouija board and being frightened. A little world-building goes a long way in a movie like this, something to make us believe these characters aren't just props in a funhouse, but White and Snowden can't find a way to make them the least bit fleshed-out. Even the grief they feel over their dead friend is just a plot manipulation.

All that ranting aside, OUIJA isn't terrible, it's just very unexceptional. Big praise, I know. It moves fast - probably too fast - and it's over before you've been too irritated or bored. It's well-shot (by longtime camera operator David Emmerichs), especially in the most effective sequences, which take place in a moldy old cellar. The villainous specter terrorizing the teens, once revealed, is actually pretty cool-looking; I dug the design so much I actually found myself wishing it had been introduced earlier. But perhaps even the inclusion of this ghoul couldn't lift OUIJA out of the bland rut it gets itself in.



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