You probably don’t need me to tell you that Ouija, this year’s Halloween supernatural horror release, is really really stupid. But I’m going to tell you anyway. Ouija is really really stupid. And I don’t mean the idea that a board can communicate with the dead — I actually believe some of that stuff is real. Oujia is idiotic because of the poor execution of the idea, the unsubtle and shameless horror cliches, the trite dialogue, and the utterly incomprehensible human reactions that defy all common sense and rationality.
Try to come up with the most cookie-cutter plot you can possibly think of for a horror movie involving a Ouija board, and chances are you have just come up with the screenplay for Ouija. A girl (Shelley Hennig) dies under mysterious circumstances. Her best friend (Olivia Cooke), best friend’s sister (Ana Coto), boyfriend (Douglas Smith) and others (Daren Kagasoff and Bianca A Santos) try to contact her with a Ouija board — the same one she used before she died — and they end up releasing some demonic spirit. The spirit haunts them and kills them off, one by one, while the survivors try and figure out the mystery behind it all. People with knowledge of how Ouija boards work are contacted, and they must figure out a way to save themselves before it’s all too late. Feel familiar?
To be fair, Ouija is not completely devoid of scares. It’s a film that knows what it is and who its audiences are, and it makes no attempt to be subtle. You’re likely to jump at least a couple of times, but only because that’s all the film is trying to do. The attempts at scaring viewers are typical and almost always the same — silence, silence silence, BOO! It’s always a loud noise, and occasionally it’s accompanied by something coming at the screen, being pulled away from the screen, or some ghastly sight. They don’t even try to mix it up a little with the occasional feint. There’s the obligatory scene in the bathroom, you know, the one with the mirror on the medicine cabinet, and of course, a convenient need to go into both an attic AND a basement.
I admit the tactics got to me at first, making me flinch a handful of times, but as the film progressed the scares just became more and more predictable. It’s one thing to know that a BOO moment is coming, but it’s another to be able to anticipate exactly when it will come, and even how it will come. Towards the end I even predicted how the plot would turn out, including the so-called “twist,” the “climax” and the “epilogue” scene. I hate spoilers, but can I just say I almost lost it when the protagonist’s suggestively Latino grandmother is conveniently revealed, right towards the end, as an expert on Ouija boards.
I wish I could say Oujia‘s problems end there, but it gets worse. First-time feature director Stiles White has some craftiness in his direction, so I’d say most of the blame goes to the atrocious script. I expected the dialogue to be sub-par, but here it’s quite perplexing. Apart from the cringeworthy exposition tagged to every second line, characters would say things that made no sense at all. When you pop out of nowhere and scare someone, you don’t then say to their face, “It’s me!” They know it’s you. You’re standing right in front of them.
More criminal than the dialogue is the actions of the characters, which are designed so that the next “scare” can be slotted in. It’s as though the whole film began as a collection of scare scenarios, and the rest of the plot was written around them. Doors to buildings are left open for inexplicable reasons just so they can slam shut to scare us. Doors are purposely left open so they can swing by themselves. A guy would ride a bike very fast, as though he’s in a hurry to get somewhere, only to get off it so he can walk extremely slowly through a dark — and extremely flat — underpass. He’ll even leave his bike so he can walk into the darkness to check out strange noises. Two sisters would leave together their house to go to play with a Ouija board, but only one of them would be seen returning home without any explanation whatsoever. Characters would be totally freaked out by something extremely small and potentially innocuous, but suddenly become brave enough to keep going in the face of something 10 times scarier and obviously demonic. They would even voluntarily separate in extremely frightening situations so characters can be alone. Sloppy, poorly thought-through stuff like this just frustrates me to no end.
I’m probably being harder on Ouija than I should be because I find the spirit boards fascinating and wanted it to be more than your run-of-the-mill supernatural horror flick. Unfortunately, it was even more unimaginative than I thought it would be. That’s not to say those looking for a cheap thrill or two won’t get their money’s worth, but for me this was a huge disappointment.
1.5 stars out of 5