Movie Review: “Ouija”

Olivia Cooke, Ana Coto, Douglas Smith, Darren Kagasoff, Lin Shaye
Stiles White

With Halloween less than a week away, it’s nice to know that Hollywood wanted to give us one of the scariest, big budget films of the season. “Ouija” isn’t that movie, but the Stiles White’s directing debut could’ve and should’ve been.

Based on the popular Hasbro game, “Ouija” goes to its trusty trunk of horror movie clichés in a valiant way to cover up a mediocre script, a modicum of special effects and lack of a budget. Pretty, blond Debbie (Shelley Hennig) uses a Ouija board by herself and soon commits suicide. She does this despite knowing that one of the rules is never to Ouija solo. The other rules (discovered via flashback) is that you can’t use the Ouija in a graveyard and all convos must end in “Goodbye” on the board. And you thought the rules of “Fight Club” were weird.

Her best friend Laine (Olivia Cooke of “Bates Motel”) leads a grief-stricken group consisting of her boyfriend Trevor (Daren Kagasoff), her sister Sarah (Ana Coto), friend Isabelle (Bianca Santos) and Debbie’s boyfriend Pete (Douglas Smith) to find clues as to why Debbie offed herself. With little to go on, they decide to use the Ouija board for answers. (Except it’s never called a Ouija board, just “the board” or “spirit board,” despite the word “Ouija” being the first thing you see when they show it. Thanks, Hasbro.)

Before you know it, those meddling kids realize that they’ve uncovered supernatural forces far beyond their comprehension. Evil spirits are trying to cross over and only their wits and a kid’s board game will save them. The mystery of what kills Debbie rarely leaves Debbie’s house, and the kids are either too brave or clueless to ask for help until the final act when they seek out Laine’s grandma Nona (Vivis Colombetti) and the creepy, but kindly old lady Paulina (Lin Shaye).

“Ouija” suffers from a less than stellar script courtesy of the director and writing partner Juliet Snowden (“The Possession”). Snowden is also listed as an executive producer on the film. Michael Bay is also a producer, but you wouldn’t know it by the lack of explosions and eye-popping special effects, and that’s not a good thing. Also notable is the production company used for “Ouija” is Blumhouse Productions, the people who brought us the “Purge” and “Paranormal Activity” franchises. Great franchises, but while penny pinching may have worked well for those films, it leaves “Ouija” looking a bit second rate, despite a really good premise and product name recognition.

Simply put, “Ouija” should’ve been a lot more and was supposed to be. When it was announced back in 2011, it was heralded as one of many upcoming, big budget movies based on board games. Then, “Battleship” happened, and the rest is history.

Despite the lack of special effects and lackluster script, director Stiles White does admirably by going by the numbers. Every few minutes, there’s a point where you’re shocked as if someone snuck up behind you and said “Boo!” It’s cheap and predictable, but it still works. So are the ghostly effects and the moments of seeing someone’s mouth sewn shut. Those shock moments are also loud enough to remind you that Bay may have had a hand in it. The fun but predictable nature of “Ouija” will have you laughing in places where it probably wasn’t intended, but with a PG-13 rating, you knew you weren’t getting “Saw”. If you can keep your expectations low and suspend all disbelief, then “Ouija” will be just tolerable and fun enough to not ask for a refund.