The true horror junkee risks seeing a lot more rubbish than the average genre fan (unless you’re really in to the kind of crap romance films that Hallmark puts out) – for every inspired and scary film, there must literally be a thousand cheap knock-offs that it would kill you to sit through. That I’m starting a review of Ouija like this perhaps indicates what camp it falls into. I haven’t seen a horror movie this lame and derivative in a long time.
Our film begins with the mysterious death of Debbie (Shelley Hennig), who sees something through the planchette of a Ouija board and winds up hanging herself. Her best friend Laine (Olivia Cooke) starts to grieve and, while at Debbie’s house, comes across the board – she decides to gather her friends to hold a séance and say goodbye to Debbie. They fail to reach their friend, but instead manage to summon a spirit called DZ. Inexplicably (because who’d-a-thought that playing with a Ouija board would end badly?), strange things start to happen, so the group must come together to determine DZ’s identity and want it wants – they soon learn Debbie’s death was not unique and that they’ll suffer the same fate unless they can close the portal they’ve opened.
What to say about Ouija? Let’s start with the positive, I guess. It certainly makes a good go of it, and some of our young actors do a decent job. Olivia Cooke, perhaps more familiar to audiences now as Rachel in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, is a very likeable leading lady, and her performance imbues a lot more character in Laine than I think the script wrote. There is also a cameo from the always reliable Lin Shaye (Elise from the Insidious films) as a woman in a mental institution with something to hide.
I think the film’s biggest issue is, quite simply, the worst thing that can befall any horror – it simply isn’t scary. Although it clearly wants to be the type of film that is creating a skin-prickling atmosphere, it fails to do so and relies although entirely on jump scares that aren’t really jumpy enough. We’re going to see something through the planchette – oh, it’s appeared in a space that was empty a moment ago – we get it. Oh, the score’s building (although it doesn’t particularly build – if you’re doing that, at least commit) – there’s going to be a bit of still, and then a sudden jutting movement. We’ve seen it all before, and certainly done a lot better than it is here.
The film is frequently silly and, worse, quite boring. It takes about half an hour to get to the first séance – this would be forgivable were it in order to build atmosphere, but it is simply plodding forward. That is a fantastic way to describe the film – a kind of plodding beast, laboriously marching forwards. Jump scares are mixed with dreary kills (I like teen slaughter, but it’s all down (if you’ll excuse the pun) to the execution) to create a film that feels like it’s doing these things simply because it’s what a horror film does.
This is Hasbro’s first horror (and I hope they do more – anyone who has ever played Monopoly knows that can be only a step away from slaughter when things get heated) but it’s hard to see what they get out of it. Advertising a toy by suggesting all your friends will die if you play with it doesn’t seem the best marketing ploy to me. Nor do I suppose that they wanted a dud of a horror linked to them, but that is what they have.
Partway through the film, Laine believes she has vanished the evil spirit. I sat up, happy to call time on this picture, and found that it was still going on. What had felt like hours turned out to have been about fifty minutes, and so I had to suffer more. That’s the type of film Ouija is – you’ll be disappointed there is more to come.
Director: Stiles White
Cast: Olivia Cooke (Laine Morris), Ana Coto (Sarah Morris), Daren Kagasoff (Trevor), Bianca A. Santos (Isabelle), Douglas Smith (Pete), Shelley Hennig (Debbie Galardi)
Running Time: 89 Mins