For anyone who has ever played the board game-slash-semi-occult-cultural phenomenon, it should be of little to no surprise that a big screen porting of Ouija doesn’t work in the slightest. It combines the worst elements of early 80s horror movies – the kind where idiotic, underdeveloped teens who don’t deserve to live get picked off one at a time because they’re idiots – and modern day commercial considerations and corporate synergies. It’s a useless movie, with useless themes that takes itself way too seriously.
Laine Morris (Olivia Cooke) is a high schooler grieving over the loss of her best friend due to an apparent suicide. But Laine, her dishwater dull and blandly supportive boyfriend, her vaguely rebellious sister and her stupid boyfriend, and a couple of interchangeable characters that I have completely forgotten about despite writing down their names during the screening less than 12 hours ago figure out that the girl’s death might not have been a suicide. The evil seems to be tied to the titular “spirit board” that the girl found in her attic. When they play the game as a group in the dead girl’s home, they unwittingly make a connection to a demonic force that begins picking them off one by one.
At some point in the production of one of the least essential films ever made, someone at least tried making an effort, though. For the first 40 minutes or so, Ouija at the very least makes no pretence about its half-assed concept, and sets out to deliver a competent looking movie with a stupid story. Director and co-writer Stiles White (who has a heavy visual effects background) has clearly studied shot-composition to an almost exhausting degree. Simple shots of keys jangling in locks, mismatched socks on a flight of stairs, or someone alone at a table eating a plate of pasta look pretty great, but if that’s what stands out the most in a horror movie, something has gone terribly wrong. Even the spirit’s penchant for leaving the rather silly greeting “HI FRIEND” on various surfaces at least looks cool. The requisite amount of jump scares are effectively mounted, but they likely won’t scare anyone except those who could be scared by the most absolute minor of occurrences. It’s aimed at the very narrow 13-16 crowd, and for the first half, it’s hitting the mark. I thought it was insufferably trying to clear the lowest possible bar, but I could honestly see extremely undiscerning teens getting into it. It’s also better than Annabelle in this respect, but again, that’s faint praise.
I was willing to grudgingly cede that point until the film manages to almost snap into abject incoherence. It’s like watching everyone involved simultaneously give their two weeks notice at their job; the kind of effort where people show up to work, but no one remotely gives a shit anymore. Peaking around the time the always delightful Lin Shaye shows up as a mental ward patient who knows the secrets of the spirits haunting the teens, the film literally smash cuts directly into what appears to be the climax already in progress. It’s so painfully obvious that at least five to ten minutes are missing from this part of the film, and if they aren’t, it’s the worst transition between two scenes I have ever seen in a film. It logically and logistically makes no sense.
From that cut the film climaxes not once, but twice, and neither of them are exciting. Both climaxes rip off better 80s horror films, and not just better films, but SEQUELS to better movies that were suspect to begin with. If you saw Poltergeist II and Nightmare on Elm Street 3 and you have a brain, every twist in Ouija is completely useless because you have seen this exact movie before. The entirety of this film hinges on major twists cribbed from those films. The kills are uninspired riffs on the Final Destination films that tantalizingly suggest weird things happening with Christmas lights, pool covers, and dental floss that have zero follow through or originality. The fact that the film races through all of this with the energy of a toddler on a sugar rush doesn’t help. It’s not scary or exhausting. It’s a resigned means to an end that signifies nothing. It’s not even good trash.
The cast just looks exhausted and sometimes bewildered as to why they keep playing the game and looking for new answers when all their problems will go away if they just leave the house and stop playing it. After the first time that they learn that a ghost is responsible for their friend’s death they had their answer. What are you going to do? Call the cops on the ghost? Call Bill Murray? Burn the house down? All of these things would lead to a better movie, but the cast on their own can’t make it a better movie.
Oddly, the most excusable thing about Ouija is how it can’t reconcile its spooky nature with the fact that it’s based on a board game that can be bought pretty much anywhere games are sold. It’s clearly a commercial for a product, but the product kills people. So why would anyone buy it? Who watches a commercial for something where people are being led to their deaths and says “Oh, yeah, you better give me two of those!”? Absolutely no one.
It’s a concept that could have used some degree of levity, only there’s none to be found anywhere outside of a few moments where the audience is invited to laugh openly at how dumb these people are. Or maybe we weren’t supposed to laugh. I don’t even know anymore. All I know is that Ouija isn’t a good film by any definition and I don’t need to hold a séance to contact the spirit world to figure it out.