When I was about seven years old my parents went off to a funeral while my sisters and I stayed home, as it wasn’t relatives us kids knew all that well who had died. My sisters thought it would be fun to pull out our Ouija board and contact the dearly departed and minutes after we started playing in my darkened bedroom I spotted a little girl in a white dress standing by my dresser. Needless to say seven year old me totally lost his shit. I later learned that the white dress I described was the same as the one my little cousin was buried in that day. I still get goosebumps thinking of that day.
How much of that was due to an over active imagination of a seven year old child? One can assume most of it, because kids just love to frighten themselves; when put in a certain spooky setting our little minds can conjure up worse things than even Hollywood could dream up. So I went in to my viewing of Hasbro and Platinum Dunes Ouija with the hope of capturing some of that childhood terror. Sadly it was not to be.
The movie begins with two little girls, Laine Morris and Debbie Galardi, playing with a Ouija board in Laine’s room. It’s here that we learn the three important rules from Debbie. These of course are brought up so that they can be broken with dire consequences later in the film.
1) You can never ever play alone.
2) You can never play in a graveyard.
3) You must always say goodbye at the end.
The movie then jumps to the present day where we find Debbie (Shelley Hennig) all freaked out about something but won’t tell her best friend Laine (Olivia Cooke) what it is, only that she had recently been playing with the a Ouija board… by herself. Debbie tries to burn the board in the fireplace but it magically appears un-singed on her bed. She looks through the board’s planchette (pointer), her eyes turn white, and in a trance-like stare she hangs herself with Christmas lights.
Laine is devastated by her friend’s apparent suicide as well as Pete (Douglas Smith), Debbie’s boyfriend, Trevor (Daren Kagasofff), Laine’s boyfriend, and mutual friend Isabelle (Bianca A. Santos). Laine convinces her friends to participate in a Ouija board session at her dead friend’s home so that she can get closure as she never got a chance to say goodbye to Debbie. I can buy Trevor agreeing to this as he hopes to continue getting laid, but her other friends should have told her to go piss up a rope.
Laine even drags along her sister Sarah (Ana Coto) because Sarah is a wild child and currently seeing an older man so she cannot be left alone. We never see this older man, though he is apparently an idiot as he parks right outside the house in full view of overprotective Laine. Sarah would certainly have been in better hands with that creep than going off with Laine and company.
They contact a spirit through the board that identifies itself as “D” and then spells out the message “hi friends”, and of course Laine is convinced it’s Debbie while her friends are all pretty sure Laine was the one moving the planchette either consciously or subconsciously. That is until all of them get the “hi friend” message sent to them at random places; chalk graffiti on a tunnel wall, written in moisture on a car window, on a computer screen and carved into Pete’s desk.
Unless Debbie secretly hated her boyfriend, that is the first clue that the ghost they contacted may not be of the Casper the Friendly Ghost variety. The film then stretches the realms of creditability well past the breaking point as Laine is somehow able to convince her sister and friends to return to the house for a second session with the Ouija board. When the ghost fails to answer personal questions that only Debbie would know it finally reveals itself to be “D.Z” who turns out to be the ghost of a little girl by the name of Doris Zander whose freaky mother sewed her mouth shut to keep the evil spirits from talking through her.
The ghost tells them to “Run. Mother is coming.” The Scooby Gang flee the house, but not the country as I probably would have done. The movie then follows the tried and true formula of friends dying one by one while our heroine tries to solve the mystery behind Ghost Doris and the Ouija board.
Ouija is by first time director Stiles White and it shows, as this movie is formulaic in the extreme with no real style of its own. Though mostly relying on jump scares the film does manage to build a sense of peril and dread in some of the scenes, which is more than what Annabelle managed to do, but not enough to overcome clumsy directing and a tired script. Unfortunately the mystery that Laine has to solve is so transparent and obvious that the audience is always ten steps ahead of the characters. This does not help with suspense.
According to actress Olivia Cooke, half of the film was re-shot at the studio’s request changing substantial elements of the story including the backstory of Doris and her mother. It would be interesting to see if the original version was less clichéd and by the numbers, but alas, we may never know.
As it stands this isn’t the worst horror movie ever made, but it’s far from being a good one; you have your standard group of pretty people who constantly do stupid things because they don’t realize they are in a horror movie, and then we grimly watch them die one by one. Ouija is just your run of the mill horror film with nothing new to add to the genre. As I watch this endless onslaught of new horror movies I keep asking the same thing, “Why don’t they call Sam and Dean Winchester?”