Director: Stiles White
Cast: Olivia Cooke, Ana Coto, Daren Kagasoff, Bianca Santos, Douglas Smith, Shelley Hennig, Lin Shaye, Vivis
MPAA Rating: (for disturbing violent content, frightening horror images, and thematic material)
Running Time: 1:29
Release Date: 10/24/14
Review by Mark Dujsik | October 24, 2014
For a movie containing murderous spirits and possession-induced suicides and a brand of spirit board that makes all of its otherworldly happenings possible, Ouija is likely to have a bigger impact on the dental floss industry than on the makers of the trademarked "board game" that shares its name with the movie (Based on a lot of stories featuring the board, it seems a player "wins" the game by not dying). Of course, the impact on either will probably be negligible anyway, but this is a movie that makes the act of flossing one's teeth a more frightening prospect than communicating with the evil spirits of the dead. To be clear on the matter, Ouija doesn't make either activity scary, but its flossing scene is slightly less not-at-all-scary than the stuff involving the board.
Here is a movie that genuinely believes we'll fall for every, tired trick in the book of horror filmmaking, and after it runs through that list, it seems to hope we'll be stupid enough—or just exhausted enough from rolling our eyes—to fall for them again. After that, screenwriters Stiles White (who also directed) and Juliet Snowden figure they might as well try one major trick again, even though they didn't fool us with it the first time it happened. By the way, the first occurrence of the fake-out is about 10 minutes prior to the second time it happens.
This kind of repetitive, transparent deceit is either lazy or cynical, or maybe it's a combination of both. The cliché-laden story and the cheap scare tactics suggest the former, while the obvious commercial tie-in suggests the latter (About the board, one character actually says, "They sell it in toy stores"). Then again, it's difficult to tell how this movie would work as an advertising tool, unless it's some kind of subversive reverse-marketing thing ("Hey, kids, you saw the terrible movie featuring our toy, but if you or your parents buy the real thing, maybe you'll have better luck getting scared").
Of course, the board's primary appeal is in the childhood taboo of participating in the occult, so the movie opens with two friends playing with a board and explaining the rules: Never play alone, never play in a graveyard (The definition of which becomes quite loose), and always say goodbye when you're finished. Years later, Debbie (Shelley Hennig) is still playing with a board. As a result, she ends up hanging herself with a string of Christmas lights (Do not attempt to figure out the logistics of this death scene), or that's what the spirit behind communicating with Debbie wants everyone to believe.
Debbie's friends are stunned and saddened by their friend's apparent suicide, and her best friend Laine (Olivia Cooke) wants to try to talk to Debbie's spirit using the board to figure out why she would kill herself. Along for the séance are Laine's boyfriend Trevor (Daren Kagasoff), her sister Sarah (Ana Coto), her friend Isabelle (Bianca Santos), and Debbie's boyfriend Pete (Douglas Smith). They communicate with some spirit, which leaves each of them a message in a series of anticlimactic scenes. We're on to the gag after the first time it happens, so repeating it three times with the assumption that it'll be scary each time is counterintuitive.
What follows is a checklist of pretty much everything we would expect: a figure appearing from behind a door/around a corner who turns out to be a very light-footed friend, objects being moved by an unseen hand, characters standing around dark rooms for no good reason, a ghost reflected in a mirror, a creepy girl (with her mouth sewn shut, which ties into the flossing scene), and a yelling spirit. Every scare—real or phony—is accompanied by a deafening sting on the soundtrack. This is one of those horror movies that entrusts all of its scares to the volume level in the theater.
We also get a trip to a dusty attic, where White either forgets to show us what causes Laine to scream or cuts away too quickly for it to register. There's a woman who spends minutes wasting our time with back story (played with at least a little cheerfully sinister glow by Lin Shaye), and Laine's grandmother (Vivis), who warns her granddaughter about messing with spirits, appears after a long absence to give ridiculously on-point advice about how to defeat the evil killing off Laine's friends.
The majority of the actors appear indifferent here. Who can blame them for just going through the motions? That is all Ouija does, and it does so with tiring redundancy.
Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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