Ouija is directed by Stiles White and stars Olivia Cooke, Daren Kagasoff, Douglas Smith, and Bianca Santos.
The Ouija board is an easy premise for a horror movie, as would anything with even just the slightest connection to the supernatural. And while any ghost, demon, or spirit can be made terrifying if executed in the right manner, Ouija struggles big time to evoke some semblance of fear out of you. That's because its scares are reliant on what happens when a planchette is moved around a wooden Ouija board, and I find it damn near impossible to develop jelly legs over, "Oooh, what happens when I move to YES?" So after you get past the "attempt to scare you with a board game" stage, up next is what really prevents Ouija from being at all scary or interesting: the bucket loads of cliches, laughable dialogue, and horrendous writing.
This was the directorial debut for writer and special effects artist Stiles White, who has too many special effects credits to list and whose only other notable writing credits were the Nicolas Cage sci-fi thriller Knowing and the demon inspired The Possession. It is never clear as to what exactly was White's vision with Ouija, largely in how half the film was re-shot after principal photography came to a close. But one thing that is clear is that no one gave White the memo on how to create a horror movie that will get inside your head and stay there for a lengthy amount of time. I would be impressed if you remembered much of Ouija a day or two after watching it.
Here we have another who-the-hell-are-these-people cast, which should automatically lead you to conclude that it's another wonderful group of teenage horror idiots. The plot opens up on best friends Debbie Galardi (Shelley Henig) and Laine Morris (Olivia Cooke), who recall a childhood memory of playing with an Ouija board together. Debbie disposes of her Ouija board by burning it, believing something strange happened to it. The board magically reappears, and Debbie becomes possessed and hangs herself. Laine and her group of close-knit friends mourn Debbie's death, until they decide to try and communicate with her using the Ouija board. This naturally leads to some supernatural terror.
There's nothing to take away from here if you're a dedicated horror fan. White's feature debut is a lazy, non-scary, and uninspired slog whose best attributes could easily be located in other, better horror films. If Ouija is good for anything, it's being the source of bad movie entertainment for groups of friends holding pizza and beer parties.
- Bad acting is the norm for teenage idiots whose top function is to be fodder for horror villains. But I will admit that Olivia Cooke, the main actress, is making a clear effort to try and give a decent performance. Cooke does her best to maximize her efficiency in looking and acting scared, even though she has to work with a script that makers her spew out laughable dialogue and have her character make dumb decisions because that's what teenagers do in horror movies. Everyone else is just going through the motions, not looking like they care to be there.
- The jump scares are an odd mix of your generic, loud noise bursts and false scares. The false scares are frustrating, as some of Laine's friends just like to show up from out of nowhere, completely killing any and all tension that the movie might have possibly been building on. My favorite was when Laine and her friends are in Debbie's house, getting ready to use the Ouija board for the first time. The lights are off, and everyone is walking around and turning the lights on. Isabelle (Bianca Santos) turns on one of the lights, and right there is Pete (Douglas Smith), who supposedly was hiding in the dark. This only tells me that the movie shot itself in the foot by washing away all tension just minutes before the plot picks up. Why else would you think the movie wanes in interest as it drags along?
- Nothing is worse in Ouija than its awful writing. The plot goes along as if White was making it up on the spot, stringing together a series of nonsensical twists that don't take into account things that happened earlier. Even when the movie is trying to kick-start itself, it doesn't make any sense. The opening scene is Debbie and Laine as young children where Debbie explains the basic rules of the Ouija board to Laine. We then flash forward to the night where Debbie dies. and Laine is trying to get Debbie to come out of her house and go to their high school's basketball game, because Debbie's behavior has been rather awkward lately. Debbie tells Laine she'd rather stay home because the Ouija board was acting strange after she decided to play with it by herself a few weeks prior (we are told in the opening scene that playing by yourself is a big mistake with the Ouija board). Laine, being the best friend that she is, decides that everything is okay and leaves. The script insists on Debbie just brushing off her strange behavior like it's nothing, as well as not bothering to tell us what exactly the strange occurrence was with the board. Basically, Debbie dies because she insists on being a complete idiot and not running away from something that obviously is going to turn out badly.
But the worst thing is the how the script bridges Debbie's death to Laine and the others using the Ouija board. After Debbie's wake, Laine and the others insist that Debbie is still trying to speak to them somehow. They don't witness any sort of supernatural happenings initially to assume that Debbie is trying to communicate with them. They just...have a hunch. And because they have a hunch, this means they should all use the Ouija board, no questions asked. It's such a forceful way to move the plot along, reinforcing how the movie refuses to take the time to build on anything. This is all paired with lines to reinforce the idiocy of the characters, such as Laine mentioning how she didn't know that Debbie had a Ouija board (the board was the topic of their final conversation, by the way), and how Pete says, "Why are you asking me all this?" when Laine asks him about if he ever noticed Debbie acting strangely before she died (Pete was Debbie's boyfriend, but clearly not a good one).
I'm not sure why Ouija didn't get dumped into a weekend in January or February, because it has all the right elements in place to be a perfect fit for either of those two months. It's completely devoid of good scares, largely because of how poorly written it is. The characters have no dimension to speak of, the story isn't interesting in the slightest, and it becomes boring way too fast. You'll get more fright out of playing something like Operation. Kudos to you if you were able to laugh at Ouija and have fun with it in a way it was not intended for.
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