Suffice to say, “Don’t mess with the ouija board” is the best advice you’ll get from watching Ouija – and you should follow that advice before the movie even starts. Just, don’t go mess with Ouija. It’s the kind of movie you’ll be glad you waited for its inevitable Netflix Instant release to see. (Nope, not even iTunes or On Demand. You’ll be glad you didn’t pay extra money to see this.)
What Is ‘Ouija’ About?
First off – how would you describe an ouija board? Perhaps, a psychic’s tool? Perhaps, a connection to the spirit world? There are many ways to describe it, but “board game” is not one of them, and yet Ouija makes this detail very clear – an ouija board in this universe is a board game you and your friends buy at Toys ‘R Us to communicate with spirits. This is just one of the many things the film gets wrong.
Ouija opens with a teenage girl, Debbie, played by that one chick from that CW show that got canceled after one season – which one isn’t important. She’s attempting to burn an ouija board in her fireplace when her best friend Laine comes to check on her. For some reason, Debbie won’t let her inside the house, though she reveals some pretty strange things have been happening ever since she messed around with her ouija board a couple weeks prior.
We see some of these occurrences take place when Debbie goes back inside to “rock it” with leftovers. (That dialogue, amirite?) The stovetop mysteriously ignites, weird noises are heard from upstairs and the ouija board we just saw Debbie burn is sitting on her bed. When she puts the planchette up to her eye – somehow she’s aware that it’s supposed to be a window to the spirit world – she becomes possessed by something and is forced to hang herself over the banister.
Her death is the motivation that leads Laine and her friends to use the ouija board to communicate with Debbie’s spirit, because they’re “just not ready to let her go.” Unfortunately for them, every board game has rules, and when they don’t adhere to the rules of the ouija board, they inadvertently awaken demonic forces that terrorize them.
Who’s In It?
Short answer – no one you know. And now we can move on…
But in all seriousness, there are very few people you’ll recognize. The lead actress, Olivia Cooke, will make you go, “Oh look! It’s that girl from that thing, I think.” And “that thing” will probably refer to either Bates Motel (she’s the girl dragging around her mobile oxygen tank), The Quiet Ones (that low-budget horror movie with The Hunger Games star Sam Claflin) or, if you’re into indie sci-fi films, The Signal. The only other person that’ll catch your fancy is a couple brief appearances from Lin Shaye, who’s been creeping you out in all the Insidious movies.
Everyone else is basically a who’s who of failed TV series. Even worse, the so-called “acting” going on in Ouija is very much a reflection of that.
The horror genre, especially low-budget horror, isn’t uniquely known for its exceptional actors. Unfortunately for Ouija, we’re coming off of films like The Conjuring, The Purge, Insidious and Sinister, all of which were produced on relatively small budgets and featured some high-quality acting talent. So, frankly, watching Ouija is like going back to PBR and Miller High Life after you’ve been taste-testing the finest drafts.
In their defense, the writing didn’t give them much to go on … like, at all.
How Is It?
Poor dialogue and acting aside, though, Ouija is a cheap product of the horror genre that’s trying too hard to market itself towards the CW crowds.
For one, the scares are cheap and not scary enough. One of these more unforgivable moments came in the beginning with that phantom stovetop. You’ll jump a couple of times because whoever mixed the audio thought it was a great idea to dial up the volume to the max when the flame ignites. Take out the sound, and it’s not even remotely disturbing. Ouija employs many of these amateur tactics to incite reactions from the crowd, whether it’s this soundboard on crack or people popping out of shadows for no reason (even when there’s no real atmospheric tension).
On another note, the plot kind of makes sense, but not really. The story as a whole seems like the first draft of a college film major’s horror project – the pieces are pretty much there, but there is no attention to detail and no smoothing out of the rough transitions. As a result, the audience is left with poor plot points. Laine can play with the ouija board in Debbie’s house all she wants because she’s left in charge after Debbie’s parents leave town after the funeral and they don’t know when they’ll be back. The same situation arises with Laine’s dad, who leaves her and her rebel sister home alone and “doesn’t know when he’ll be back.” Oh, and speaking of Laine’s rebel sister, we see her sneaking out of the house and trying to canoodle with her much-older boyfriend, but she quickly drops any and all traces of this personality just before the group’s first encounter with the ouija board. It’s sloppy.
But perhaps the most unforgivable aspect is the fact that it’s just so damn predictable. If you’ve seen even a handful of horror movies involving freaky poltergeists or demonic forces wreaking havoc, you’ll know all the twists and turns coming in Ouija. I’m pretty sure I even predicted early on who was going to be killed off and in what order. There’s only one real twist in the movie, but, again, it’s been done before and you’ll see it coming because of all these “wait, that was too easy” bits.
And, of course, when things get crazy because of a spirit board, just bring in Laine’s god-fearing Latina housekeeper, who just so happens to know exactly what to do in any and all spirit board situations.