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Movie Review: Ouija

Ouija poster

@RenZelen let's the spirits spell out what she thinks of Ouija...

As presumably everyone since the post-Exorcist 1970s knows - you don’t mess with Ouija boards and expect to have fun times - and using them alone in the dark is a sure-fire way to accidentally summon up some demon or malevolent entity that is going to possess your broken body, suck out your soul or possibly burn out your eyeballs. Now, we all know this, just as we also know that there will always be some generic bunch of high-school teens who will inevitably find some hair-brained reason to tamper with the ol’spook board and get some crazed denizen of the spirit-realm good and mad.

Messing about with this particular Ouija board is Laine (Olivia Cooke) - a young woman trying to fathom why her ‘bestest, bestest friend in the world’, Debbie (Shelley Hennig) inexplicably committed suicide (using a string of fairy lights for added suicide-sparkle, as if prompted by some murderous interior decorator).

While poking around in Debbie’s bedroom closets during the funeral luncheon (because of course, that’s what best friends do) Laine finds the Ouija board that the two played with as children. Laine becomes convinced that she will be able to communicate with Debbie through the board but aah, she’s no fool regarding the paranormal – she knows the rule about not playing alone in the dark so, counting on safety in numbers, she cajoles four less convinced but conveniently gullible teen pals to join her —the chiselled-boyfriend-with-great-hair (Daren Kagasoff), best-friend-Debbie’s-pale-and-stricken-boyfriend (Douglas Smith), the mildly-rebellious-goth-sister (Ana Coto), and the nervous-token-second–bestest-girlfriend (Bianca A. Santos)—to help her contact Debbie’s spirit. They appear to succeed, but their efforts unleash a pestiferous supernatural force that seems determined to take them out one by one, in the style of Final Destination. After that, the main questions become: Who will die next - and why should we care?

Ouija image

What this less animated Scooby-Doo gang uncovers isn't quite as shocking as the blasé attitude they all have towards young friends bizarrely dying off, or the fact that they actually know that the Ouija board’s circular-windowed pointer is called a ‘planchette’ (clearly Hasbro product-placement made sure they got the terminology right). What was most startling was the unrelenting niceness of each one of these improbably good-looking teens - their touchy-feely concern, kindness and support for each other was enough to make passing puppies cavort in an ecstasy of warm fuzziness. Even stroppy-goth-sister turned out to merely need a bit of a firm hand. There wasn’t one of them one felt inclined to wish immediately dead…or, well…it would be churlish to do so, right?

I don't expect complex characterization in a horror flick but, as with so many teen-oriented horror films, Ouija relies too much on ‘jump-scares’ rather than make the effort to create effective atmospherics and old-school creepiness. It utilizes clichés that litter most other teen-horror films and have done so for the last decade. Making a creepy movie about the Ouija board as a long-established tool for séances isn’t really much of a challenge, as this device has been used as the catalyst for countless haunted-house stories.

The tale created around Debbie’s spooky old house and her recalcitrant Ouija board involves archive searches, a cache of old photographs, secret rooms, previous occupants secreted away in psychiatric institutions and similarly familiar horror territory. First-time director Stiles White (a former F/X guy and screenwriter who has co-written this with Juliet Snowden) has a precise, clean style going for him and seems to know how to direct an audience’s attention. He finds a pace and sticks with it. White does manage to summon up some appropriately creepy imagery and plot twists that work within the framework of a kid-friendly rating, so any encounters with the dark side are never grisly enough to upset the popcorn at a sleepover party.

The most unfortunate aspect of the movie is the banal dialogue. The writers hover between the conversational pleasantries that define these ‘oh-so-caring’ teen relationships and whatever exposition might be needed to get the film to the next scary set-piece. Ouija is by-the-book, unambitious teenage-horror fare – it isn’t going to redefine the genre, but it’s good enough to keep the kids off the streets for a couple of hours.

Ren Zelen

Twitter: @Renzelen

Copyright R.H. Zelen – ©RenZelen 2015 All rights reserved.

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