‘Ouija’ Only Works in a Single Digit IQ World

As long as it avoids anything closely resembling the real world, Ouija works. Not as horror, but as a cautionary example as to why "gotchas" don't necessarily equal scares.

Welcome to the world of stupid horror, terror where the failed fear comes out of the character’s single digit IQ actions, not anything remotely realistic or relatable. It’s a place where no one ever turns on a lamp, where already scared individuals walk blindly into pitch black areas carrying only notoriously unreliable flashlights, where the police are never called or investigate very mysterious deaths, and where information is parsed out it narratively beneficial drips and drabs.

It’s a place where a house someone has lived in for years contains an easily discoverable secret room that no one has come across before (wouldn’t a home inspection and a title/blueprint search for tax/insurance purposes cover that?), and where clueless characters walk right into supernatural traps, clearly never learning their lesson the first 15 times around.

Ouija wallows in such a worthless realm, relying on sudden shocks and quite loud jolts in order to cover up its lack of sustained fright. Indeed, first time feature filmmaker/long time script writer and production supervisor Stiles White wouldn’t know how to create suspense if a zombified Alfred Hitchcock rose from the grave and coached him. For White, this movie is just a series of surprises, none of them leading to a legitimate level of dread.

If things going a bit more than BUMP in the night put you on edge, you’re this movie’s main demo. If you’d like something more than a bunch of “BOOS!”, you’re in the wrong domain. This is macabre for the moronic, or dread for dummies.

Our story begins in the past, where best friendies Laine (Olivia Cook) and Debbie (Shelley Hennig) share a love for all things Ouija. Fast forward a few years and the latter decides to do a little planchette positioning on her own. As a result (surprise) tragedy strikes, leaving Laine to rally her other pals — boyfriend Trevor (Darren Kagasoff), rebellious sister Sarah (Ana Coto), waitress buddy Isabelle (Bianca Santos), and Debbie’s ex, Pete (Douglas Smith) — in an effort to break out the board game for a little afterlife texting.

Initially thinking themselves successful in their spirit-contacting quest, they soon find that they have in fact awakened a vengeful spirit, the ghost of a dead girl whose mother was accused (but never convicted) of murdering her. Intrigued, and hoping to get more information on the case, Laine visits the only remaining member of the family (Lin Shaye). What she discovers there puts everyone in danger.

As long as it avoids anything closely resembling the real world, Ouija works. Not as horror, but as a cautionary example as to why “gotchas” don’t necessarily equal scares. Just because a door opens by itself or a stove turns on without assistance doesn’t mean you have to lose your cinematic shit. But here we are.

Heck, it worked for Paranormal Activity, and at least here we don’t have to suffer through some silly shaky-cam/surveillance footage gimmick. No, the main reference point for this otherwise gutless game adaptation is The Conjuring. Yes, James Wan can be thanked for reintroducing old fashioned ’70s style horror back into the genre. He can also be blamed for every studio with a bean counter trying to copy it.

At least the recent Annabelle had the basement sequence. Ouija has nothing like that. Instead, the entire movie takes place in the seemingly lightless inside of a black hole where nothing, not even fear, can avoid its groan-inducing gravitation pull. This is the kind of film that has you running through a series of logic questions, almost all surrounding why a group of seemingly intelligent kids would rummage through a crime scene. Of course, all the adults are off doing far more important things (getting over grief, going on a business meeting of “indefinite” length) leaving our adolescents to do what teens in a horror movie do best: become victim fodder.

Yes, like Friday the 13th (or better still, A Nightmare on Elm Street), some unseen force starts offing our heroes and heroines one by one. The kills have some imagination to them (beware of… DENTAL FLOSS!!!), but for the most part, death is just a distraction. Our characters never really stop when one of their number drops off. Instead, they press forward, making sure not to linger, lest the 83 minute run time grow by a commercially unsatisfactory amount. Yet White spends almost a half hour trying to set-up likeable kids whom we will follow and root for, he doesn’t succeed.

That’s because the movie makes them do consistently idiotic things. As stated before, they don’t believe in using lighting fixtures, they enter places where the power has been off for days (and they do nothing to restore it), and they mindlessly mill about, trying to come up with a reasonable strategy, only to be picked off one by one by a corpse straight out of Andres Muschietti’s Mama. And they never do any of this during daylight hours.

Since the threat is so ill-defined, we never fear for our characters. We simply recognize that they will decrease in number until someone is left to play the role of the Nigel Exposition. Of course we have to suffer through a couple of false finalés and at least one obvious twist before getting to the best part of the movie: the end.

For the nominal horror fan who wouldn’t know Dario Argento from George Romero, Ouija will function just fine. It’s a crowdpleaser, in that anyone in the audience will feel happy about being infinitely smarter than the dimwits on screen. What’s most unfortunate is that there is a good core idea here, a notion perhaps better explored in A Haunting in Connecticut. With the right director behind the camera, trademark owner Hasbro could have had another potential film franchise on their hands. With White working here, however, Ouija is just a joyless joke.

RATING 3 / 10


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