Starring Olivia Cooke, Ana Coto, Daren Kagasoff, Bianca A. Santos, Douglas Smith, Shelley Hennig
Directed by Stiles White
Distributed by Universal
Utter the words “horror” and “PG-13” in the same sentence around certain genre fans, and you’ll likely witness a level of teeth-gnashing and unbridled rage that’ll leave you either shuddering with fear or shaking your head in disbelief.
To be honest, this reviewer has never had much of an issue with lighter horror fare so long as its intent to scare is genuine. I’m thinking of movies like The Ring, Insidious, The Others, or 1408 – films which didn’t need to trade in extreme violence, bloodshed, nudity, or profanity to effectively elicit a series of genuine chills from their audiences. So long as a scary movie attempts to, y’know, actually be scary, I couldn’t care less what its rating winds up being.
Of course, there are also movies bearing that lower rating which have absolutely nothing going for them in terms of storytelling or craft – movies which shoot for a PG-13 and a more lucrative box office take without any regard to what should be their intended fanbase. Make a bad film, then remove all of the more exploitative elements that can at least make a bad film fun, and then what are you left with?
…a movie that would look a hell of a lot like Ouija, I should imagine.
Poised to take the top spot at the box office this weekend in the absence of any other Halloween-friendly horror flicks (oh, Saw and Paranormal Activity – why have you forsaken fans this season?*), Ouija is a solid ninety minutes of “Who gives a shit?!” – a movie so bereft of an interesting plot or relatable characters that this writer CHALLENGES any masochistic viewers out there willing to take this flick in to ignore their watches for what feels like an interminable running time.
Ouija stars Olivia Cooke (so great as Emma in “Bates Motel”) as Laine, our would-be Final Girl who opens the film having just lost her best friend Debbie (Hennig) to suicide. While attempting to move on from this tragedy, Laine refuses to let Debbie go without saying goodbye – enlisting fellow friends to take a spin with the very Ouija board Debbie had mentioned using the night of her death in order to contact her one last time so that everyone can say their proper farewells. Said friends (I don’t remember their names and neither will you) gather ‘round a table, move the Ouija’s planchette about the board a bit, and wind up awakening an entity which proceeds to haunt their every move before taking them out in the lamest possible ways, all while Laine attempts to figure out the nature of the board’s evil and how to possibly stop it before it claims her own life.
Apologies if that paragraph made the movie seem even remotely interesting. While Cooke does her damnedest to make for an engaging lead (and indeed, the entire cast is perfectly solid – if saddled with terrible writing), the movie never manages to take flight. By minute forty of this ninety-minute flick, we’ve barely gotten past our heroes’ first communal whack at the Ouija board. The following quarter-hour has our mostly yet unseen villain terrorizing the leads by taunting them with the phrase “Hi Friend”- its signature greeting. I’m entirely serious – a decent chunk of the damn movie has each character, one by one, being assaulted with “Hi Friend” (written with chalk, in the condensation of a car window, carved into a desktop, yadda yadda…).
Things eventually kinda-sorta kick into gear when Lin “Exposition” Shaye pops in to grab a paycheck and explain the film’s backstory in one big, lazy info-dump – sending Laine and her remaining Scoobies into harm’s way in order to battle and destroy the film’s Big Bad, leading to a twist ending that’s as head-slappingly lame as it is incredibly obvious.
It’s not all bad, though. As mentioned, Cooke tries her best to overcome the material, and the film is handsomely shot. And… well… okay, I guess it’s mostly all bad. But more so than bad – the film is just damned dull. I’d forgive it if there was any attempt made to entertain its audience, but yikes – every choice made is safe, every scare telegraphed, every plot point hammered over the audience’s head. If I told you that the writers responsible for this flick also inflicted upon us the utter borefests Boogeyman and The Possession, would you be at all surprised? Would you be even less surprised to find the Platinum Dunes fellas listed among Ouija’s producers?
Again – the film isn’t bad because it’s PG-13. It’s not even bad because it’s based on a friggin’ Hasbro board game. It’s bad because it’s poorly written, lazily directed, and features not one moment that rises above the level of “entirely uninvolving.” I weep for all of the kids out there who are growing up with films like Ouija haunting the multiplexes. At least there are plenty of great films awaiting them on disc and various streaming services. It’s to those youngsters, and to you readers, that I’m obligated to say – skip Ouija. Skip it. It deserves neither your precious time nor your hard-earned money. If you want to celebrate the upcoming holiday with an appropriate movie, find one that bothers to give a damn and watch it instead.
Board game? More like Bored Game.
*Yes, yes – I know. The original Saw is getting widely re-released back into theatres next weekend. I just miss seeing new installments of venerable horror franchises during the Halloween season.