Ouija: Spiffy Premise, Cookie Cutter Movie!

Ouija - Universal - 11-23-14

Remember those Ouija boards that we used to use to scare ourselves silly when we were kids? Well, there’s a microbudgeted horror film about some kids who get into big supernatural trouble because they didn’t follow the rules. It’s a pretty lame effort at bringing classic (which is to say clichéd) tropes to an adolescent-friendly introduction to Horror 101, but it’ll make a big profit even if only does have its predicted $20 mill opening weekend.

A brief opening scene finds three girls playing with – and putting away a Ouija board. Cut to the present and Debbie (Shelley Hennig, Teen Wolf) is saying goodbye to something and burning her Ouija board. Then – after declining to go to a basketball game with her best friend, Laine (Olivia Cooke, Bates Motel) – she apparently kills herself.

Laine suspects something to be wrong and following Debbie’s funeral, is checking out Debbie’s room and finds (you guessed it) the Ouija board that we saw burn up. She decides something is just not right and gets her sister, Sarah (DisCONNECTED), Debbie’s boyfriend, Pete (Douglas Smith, Big Love), their friend Isabelle (Bianca Santos, The Fosters) and her own boyfriend, Trevor (Daren Kagasoff, The Secret Life of an American Teenager) together in Debbie’s house to play the game try to contact Debbie’s spirit.

Things go horribly awry. More people die.

There is, of course, a real spirit in the house and there are red herrings and attempted jump moments (only a couple of which work at all), and the living relative (Lin Shaye, Insidious: Chapter 2) of the troubled spirit – who has her own agenda (again, of course…) – and the wise grandma (Vivis Colombetti, Paranormal Activity 2) who knows and imparts the rules and is totally ignored until its almost too late.

The problems with Ouija begin at the beginning – we never really get a sense of who Debbie was, or who her would-be avengers are, other than in the broadest of terms: Debbie was the golden child; Laine was the prototypical bestie; Sarah is the bratty younger sister; Pete is the sensitive guy; Trevor is the brooding guy, and Isabelle is the cynical waitress.

Another problem is that – despite its 89 minute playing time – Ouija moves at a pace that might have been described as deliberate if there had been any character development at all, but with this collection of cardboard cutouts is only sluggish. It seems to take forever to get to its inevitable conclusion.

To be fair, the young cast does their best with the material they’ve been given, but you can’t make silk from sod. Only Shaye really overcomes the limitations of the script.

First time director/co-writer Stiles White and co-writer Juliet Snowden (The Possession) clearly know the nuts and bolts of horror – they hit almost every beat pretty much bang on schedule. Therein lies the movie’s biggest flaw – it’s almost laughably predicable. With the exception of those two good jump moments (one coming near the end) and the two good red herrings/misdirects, Ouija sends more time stalling out that pulling its audience in.

Ouija is a movie that is so sanitized that it could play in the early evening on network TV – there’s no really bad language, no sex and virtually all the action happens offscreen – or is edited away from maximum effect. It gets points for the cast’s efforts and those few moments that actually work, but is still a dreary effort that could have been much worse (it was originally intended as a big budget scarefest from Michael Bay, so there’s that…).

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Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures