Ouija (2014) / Horror
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for disturbing violent content, frightening horror images, and thematic material
Running Time: 89 min.
Cast: Olivia Cooke, Ana Coto, Daren Kagasoff, Bianca Santos, Shelley Hennig, Douglas Smith, Lin Shaye, Sierra Heuermann
Small role (voices): Placido Domingo, Gabriel Iglesias, Eugenio Derbez, Cheech Marin, Guillermo del Toro
Director: Stiles White
Screenplay: Juliet Snowden, Stiles White
Review published October 24, 2014
MerdeScheisse would be a more apt French/German combo title.
Ouija gets its name from the popular spirit board first commercially introduced in America in the late 19th century, but popularized in the 1960s when game company Parker Brothers (now Hasbro) bought the rights and mass marketed it to just about every toy and department store in the country. Basically, it's just a flat board with letters, numbers and the words "Yes" and "No" written on it, and a heart-shaped planchette that, when touched by those sitting around it, is said to move to the correct answer as guided by those the participants are communicating with in the spirit world.
Using the invention as the rumored gateway of the occult to talk to demonic spirits, we find teenager Debbie (Hennig, "Teen Wolf") dying mysteriously in her home. These events are followed by her best friend Laine (Cook, The Quiet Ones) and some of her close circle of friends breaking out Debbie's Ouija board in order to conduct a make-shift séance with their dead homie in order to find out what happened, and to say their proper goodbyes. However, they begin to suspect that the entity they've contacted may not be Debbie, but a malevolent force that has attached itself to them, and now is going to do to them what it did to Debbie.
The main knock on Ouija as a horror movie is that it isn't very scary. It's a PG-13 fright flick, which means the makers are already limited to not make it too frightening or gory for kids, but compounding the problems is that it we care so little about these characters, who are about as idiotic as they come, that we have little concern about their well-being when they encounter any peril. This script stinks, with dialogue so horrible that you'll be wishing all of the characters could sew their lips together with dental floss just to not hear much more of it. Most annoying is that all of the characters refer to the spirit board as a "game", when it's so clearly not. Sure, it is a board and they all sit around the table, but there's no object to it, no rules -- it's merely a communication device at best, and a diversion otherwise.
Ouija is directed by first-timer Stiles White (who serves as screenwriter, along with Juliet Snowden -- their previous collaborations includ the god-awful Knowing and Boogeyman), and while the direction isn't abysmal, the screenplay is uninspired trash that shamelessly cribs genre clichés at every opportunity. In particular, the makers of this movie look to the most popular PG-13 flick of all time, The Ring, and basically lift the plotline, except with a Ouija experience to supplant that of watching a mysterious VHS tape as the thing that triggers their potential demise.
Without suspense or adequate jolts, Ouija must rely on its story and cast to deliver something watchable and the elements just aren't there in either case. Olivia Cooke is a natural lead actress for a film like this, but she has been overdoing the fright genre of late, appearing in three out of three with this plus The Quiet Ones and The Signal, and TV's "Bates Motel". Hopefully we will see her in a light that doesn't require her to just look wide-eyed at unnerving images.
Shelley Hennig has a screen presence appeal as Debbie, but the rest of the cast are either generic or underused (and a bit long in the tooth to buy as high schoolers), with only a small appearance by Lin Shaye (Insidious, Chapter 2) as the only recognizable actor. Shaye's scenes are atrocious, as she appears to be playing her role as if she were appearing in a dark comedy, while the rest of the movie is deadly serious. Given how horrible the execution is, perhaps Shaye was the only one who knew how to do the film right, because it's too much of a crock to take at face value.
This movie doesn't really crash with a dumb ending because it never takes off of the ground. Ouija is merely an attempt to grab dollars before Halloween among teens too young to get into a truly scary R-rated fright flick. You shouldn't need a spirit board to tell you that this Michael Bay production is one to avoid at all costs.
©2014 Vince Leo