‘Ouija’ movie review: Olivia Cooke in Hasbro board game horror film

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Watching a group of teenagers spell out words has never been as terrifying as it is in Ouija, which places five characters around an Ouija board and lets the horror flood in. Slooowly. 

“H… I… F… R… I… E……”

“Oh. Hi, friend.”

“B… E… C… A… R……”

Sigh. This concept doesn’t exactly lend itself to thrills and chills, and I spent these sequences trying to spell out the words before the teenagers. They’re surprisingly adept, however, able to guess some words from a single letter. Plot twist: they were wrong. 

The filmmakers must have realized the monotony of this at some point: during exciting scenes of Ouija-ing, the planchette (the heart-shaped indicator that you move over the Ouija board) violently jerks itself over the board, accompanied by a thunderous “swoosh” on the soundtrack and frantic editing and camerawork. Man, they’re really trying to sell this thing.

Soon, however, they abandon even that: for a movie called Ouija, there’s precious little communicating with the dead going on. Instead, once characters play that initial round of Ouija, they’re each cursed, doomed to demonic possession for the rest of the movie. I believe there are exactly two scenes where the characters actually use the board, which total about five minutes of screen time. The rest of the movie, it’s just ominously sitting there. 

The characters are high schoolers Laine (Olivia Cooke), her boyfriend Trevor (Daren Kagasoff), sister Sarah (Ana Coto), and friends Isabelle (Bianca A. Santos) and Pete (Douglas Smith). They use the Ouija board to contact Laine’s BFF (and Pete’s girlfriend) Debbie (Shelley Hennig), who hangs herself with a string of LED Christmas lights in the film’s preposterous opening scene (what did she hang herself from…? What’s the tensile strength of a string of LED lights…?) 

Soon, however, they realize they aren’t talking to Debbie… but instead something more malicious, which proceeds to possess the characters one-by-one for the remainder of the film, forcing them to commit suicide… for some reason. It can also attack the characters physically, and can be seen through the glass window in the planchette… and then without it. Right up through the finale, Ouija keeps inventing the rules as it goes along. 

Despite a loud “BOO!” every once in a while, however, the film struggles to raise your pulse. There is exactly one creepy scene here, with Lin Shaye as a not-quite-right psychiatric patient whom Laine visits to help explain the (threadbare) plot of the movie to us.

In the end, however, Ouija is a strictly by-the-numbers affair that recalls the formula of J-horror films like The Ring and The Grudge. After years of surprisingly effective supernatural offerings that raised the stakes by playing things low(ish)-key – including Insidious, Sinister, and The Conjuring – studios have failed to deliver in 2014, with a trio of overcooked films (Annabelle, Jessabelle, and now Ouija) that have been shockingly light on creepiness.

Ouija

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Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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