“OUIJA” (Movie Review)Home,Movies/TV,News,Reviews Michael Gingold
Maybe the “four-quadrant supernatural adventure” wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
A couple of years back, there were some sighs of relief on the genre scene when Universal abandoned the idea of making OUIJA, one of the many projects in its visionary alliance with the Hasbro toy company, into an all-ages event movie on the order of THE MUMMY, and then resurrected it as a smaller, more serious horror film. Yet this OUIJA is likely to appeal only to very young and undiscriminating viewers, which is a particular shame considering that Blumhouse Productions came on board for the new incarnation. It’s a rare misstep from the supernatural hit factory, even as it purloins plot elements from the company’s SINISTER and INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER TWO—but the results are decidedly INSIPIDOUS.
It’s also not a surprise to note that writers Stiles White, who also directed, and Juliet Snowden were among those who worked on the long-in-development POLTERGEIST remake, as OUIJA has the same paranormally invaded suburban mise-en-scène and low-prowling camerawork as the Tobe Hooper/Steven Spielberg classic. In fact, just about everything in OUIJA is familiar from other movies; it adopts the most obvious and predictable storyline for a film about a Ouija board, and fills it in with details seen in a hundred other occult chillers. There is a spooky, dusty old attic that must be explored. There is an elderly person with a connection to the haunting who must be visited in a mental hospital. There is an old Hispanic lady who senses and knows how to deal with the bad mojo. There is a creepy doll. There are flashlights that stop working at the most inopportune moments. Etc., etc.
The movie tries to get at some emotional resonance by motivating its teenaged protagonists to use the Ouija not out of curiosity about the other side, but from their grief for a dead friend. Specifically, young heroine Laine (Olivia Cooke) is desperate for closure over the suicide of her BFF Debbie (Shelley Hennig), and brings a few pals and her sister Sarah (Ana Coto) together in an attempt to contact Debbie via the spirit board. We’re already aware from an early scene that Debbie offed herself after seeing something awful when she played the Ouija by herself; Laine knows that’s a no-no, and other arcane facts about the board, but doesn’t seem too bright in other areas. She evidently forgets that Debbie mentioned having scary Ouija experiences in their last conversation before her death, and after later receiving a few very blunt clues and a very specific horrific vision via the board and planchette, Laine has to go on-line and do research (involving some rather unconvincing fake newspaper headlines) before she even begins to put the pieces together.
In general, the kids largely behave as if they’ve never heard of a Ouija board or seen a movie like this themselves. Even Sarah, whose morose attitude and heavy-metal Gothy getup seem to indicate her as someone with dark-side interests, doesn’t have much of a clue. And it’s not like Laine and Sarah can get much help from their single dad (Matthew Settle); he takes off on a business trip early in the movie, ostensibly for just a few days, and then is never seen again.
All these lapses and inconsistencies—and there are more once the supernatural elements come into play, their rules rewritten as they go along—wouldn’t be so bothersome if OUIJA were more adventurous and intense with its scares. Instead, there’s the usual first-act round of false-alarm jumps and portentous teasers like a stove burner igniting by itself (all accompanied by sledgehammer-on-anvil soundtrack stingers), and scenes in which the teens foolishly venture into the most solitary, threatening locations possible (as when Laine’s boyfriend Trevor, played by Daren Kagasoff, decides to take a bicycling shortcut through a dank, dark tunnel). Once the group starts directly confronting the evil spirit or spirits plaguing them, only tweens who don’t recognize this as extremely well-trod territory are likely to get any kind of a rise out of it.
OUIJA sports a professional look throughout (David Emmerichs makes a very creditable debut as cinematographer after many years as an ace Steadicam operator), but contains little that’s inspired. British actress Cooke is convincing enough as an American teen, and indeed, that’s the most challenging facet of her role, while Kagasoff’s Trevor and Douglas Smith as Debbie’s boyfriend Pete look and behave so similarly, you could mistakenly think Laine and Debbie were sharing a guy before the two actors have a scene together. OUIJA is but a shadow of a true horror film, one that struts and frets its hour and a half upon the screen, and then the end credits roll as the audience departs to make way for the next round of multiplex-goers—but both they and the Ouija board deserve better. Where’s Kevin S. Tenney when you really need him?