Ouija, read as “wee jah” and not “wee gee,” is the latest in a line of films I can’t believe exist. Movies are pretty much made from anything with a recognizable name now. I mean, we’re in a post-Battleship world here people, so sky’s the limit for potential money makers. What’s next? An ultra dramatic adaptation of Operation? A super depressing Life? What about a science fiction take on Mouse Trap?
But Ouija wants to avoid all of this by attempting to be a horror movie that just so happens to involve a certain toy…sort of like the million other films that feature the game. But the main question here is: Can Ouija mine horror tropes and go beyond its namesake to become a film capable of standing on its on two feet?
Not really, no.
The Ouija board game is serious business in Ouija. When Debbie (Shelley Hennig) dies from an apparent suicide, her best friend Laine (Olivia Cooke) finds out her death was a result of a mysterious game of Ouija. Distraught and wanting to somehow speak to her lost friend, she plays the game with a group of her friends in Debbie’s now abandoned house (as all the parents in the town have hilariously left on trips at the same time). Then they find out that Ouija is more than just a game, and now they’ve woken up something they shouldn’t have.
For a film that’s a little under an hour and a half, I could somehow feel myself aging watching Ouija. They say mankind’s biggest fear is the passage of time, so I’d like to give Ouija some props for reminding me that life has an expiration date. It’s from first time director Stiles While, so I’m not really sure how to criticize something like this. There are so many generically made decisions which don’t stand out enough to be even ironically enjoyable. For example, there are about 500 jump cuts/scares. To be fair they are set up quite effectively on the first few occasions but, like in every other buffet situation, by the 50th or so jump scare they lose their effect no matter how involved you may be with the material. After awhile it just reeks of desperation. But the saddest part of all of this is Ouija could have worked had it not tried so hard.
While it takes a bit too long to get everything going (the kids don’t actually play the game until about 30 minutes in and when your film is only 90 minutes, that’s pretty bad), there are some good bits. Before it reveals a ghost that’s so overplayed (it’s basically the same ghost in every other horror films like Mama and the Insidious films) the final act almost has to follow the same tropes as other films of its ilk, Ouija oddly feels unique. The “seance” scenes themselves were broken down to connect with audience members who’ve played the game before, the lines you’d expect from a Ouija film (“You’re moving it!” “I’m not even touching it!”) are sort of interesting in a funny way, and the cast handles the overly serious material well. In fact, it’s the first victim Debbie that’s the best actress in the whole thing. More so than the main actress Olivia Cooke, Shelley Hennig as Debbie is just wonderful as she seems to realize what kind of film this is. She mixes in a playful attitude into her performance and it lights up the screen.
But unfortunately, no matter how good singular elements may seem, many odd choices (like the numerous cuts, weird soundtrack, yet another vaguely ethnic wise woman) smother what goodness there is. Ouija just sort of piles onto a plate of bland cherry gelatin. You can see some pieces of fruit in there maybe, but what those fruits actually are remains a mystery. Are they chunks of pineapple? Maybe cherries? Who knows as they’re all bathed in a red goo that’s so thick and wobbly you’re not even sure if you’re supposed to eat it. You’re just left stunned with the thought someone putting it together was a good idea.
In accordance with Ouija’s theme, I’ll end this review with a seance of my own. Pretend you and I are in a creepy room using our smart phone flashlights like in the movie:
“As friends we’ve gathered, hearts are true, spirits near we call to you.”
“Is there someone there?”
The spirits point to YES.
“Should we go see Ouija?”
The spirits spell out “PASS” on this one.