Written by: Pat Brennan
Director: Stiles White
Cast: Olivia Cooke, Ana Coto, Daren Kagasoff, Lin Shaye
Ouija is a horror film that’s meant for people who don’t like horror films. It’s one of the many titles that come out every October to capitalize on the mainstream Halloween movie-goer market: the people who don’t usually watch scary movies but who want to get into the spirit of the season. And that’s totally fine. However, what’s disappointing – no, scratch that: what’s down-right insulting – is how much of a poorly-constructed, hollow, lifeless offering this is. Ouija is a film that has no intentions of giving you a story worth watching, and while its constant array of cheap-shot jump-scares might be enough to frighten the general public, it (hopefully) won’t be enough to fool them into thinking that it is anything more than a well-timed ploy to separate them from their cash.
The story centers around a teenager named Laine (played by Olivia Cooke but featuring absolutely none of the charm she brought to her role in Bate’s Motel) who is left reeling from the death of her best friend Debbie (Teen Wolf’s Shelley Henning). Soon Laine comes across an old Ouija board that used to belong to Debbie, and decides to gather some of their friends and attempt to contact her through it. But wouldn’t you know it, they end up contacting the evil spirit that Debbie had accidently unleashed when using the Ouija board herself, and they soon realize that the same thing that killed their friend is now intent on ending their lives as well.
Some might argue that this film’s first problem comes in the fact that it’s centered on a board game that can be found in any Toy-R-Us across the country. I’d agree with this if it weren’t for the fact that there already was a great movie made about a devilish Ouija board and the evil spirit it conjures up. Witchboard, the first offering from cult classic horror director Kevin Tenney, isn’t a perfect movie by any stretch, but it at least tells a coherent story, features interesting characters, and sports some actually creative scares.
And that’s where the most hilariously unforgivable offense comes into play regarding Ouija: it’s a film that steals so many elements from other, better horror films but doesn’t bother to take anything from the movie that actually got it right. Instead we see aspects of films like Final Destination, Absentia, and just about every supernatural-themed fright flick made in the past ten years. Even the film’s score, which actually manages to create a sense dread at times, is a complete rip-off of the one heard in the American remake of The Ring.
Now you might be thinking “But hey, show me a horror film that hasn’t been influenced by a bunch of others that came before it”, and to that I’d certainly have to agree with you: it’s really hard to find a completely one hundred percent original genre film. And that would be a lot easier to forgive if it weren’t for the fact that, despite these borrowings, the ultimate sum of Ouija’s parts is still as flimsy as the shitty faux-wood most of the spirit-boards are made of today.
Co-writer and first-time director Stiles White definitely knows how to create atmosphere and tension at times, but these moments are quickly forgotten thanks to ridiculous leaps in logic and the usual assortment of jump-scares featuring the subtlety of two tractor-trailers smashing into each other over and over and over again. Sharing in that level of sophistication is the acting ability of most of Ouija’s cast, who seem to only have two sets of emotions: sort-of-scared and aloofness.
There are a few moments in Ouija that work in its favor. It’s hard not to love the appearance of Lin Shaye, who clearly looks to be having fun in her role as a psych-ward inhabitant housing a dark secret. And the climax of the film, for all its predictability, still has enough frights to unnerve ever so slightly.
However, these high points are not enough to make up for the rest of the problems that haunt Ouija. It’ll still make a lot of money (as displayed by its relatively strong opening weekend) and it might even satisfy the needs of the general public who’s looking for something spooky to view as Halloween approaches. But it’s still a bad movie, and you should do yourself a favor and find your frights somewhere else.