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Universal // PG-13 // October 24, 2014
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Fandango]
We're approaching the holiday season, and that means the beginning of the marketing strategies to get people buying this year's latest gadgets. Board games are trying to increase sales, as Hasbro tries to incorporate their products into the spotlight of motion pictures. They did it with Battleship, and now they're doing it with Ouija. After getting delayed a few years, it has finally come to fruition. Following Blumhouse Productions' model, the film has been kept to a minimal budget in hopes of a rather larger return in its opening weekend. The film is sure to bring teenagers looking for a PG-13 rated thrill, but older audiences will likely wait for something more substantial. Does Ouija manage to genuinely scare, or is it a snoozefest?
After the death of her best friend (Shelley Hennig), Laine Morris (Olivia Cooke) brings a group of friends together in order to communicate with her friend's spirit in search of closure. However, they must confront their worst fears when they realize that they have awakened the dark powers of a vengeful spirit that's looking to exact its wrath upon anybody that comes into contact with it.
The concept of making a film around a Ouija board isn't a bad idea. After all, everybody understands its significance. Some view it to be a toy, while others believe that it's a spiritual tool that shouldn't be messed with. Regardless, a lot of truly eerie stories can be associated with these boards. Unfortunately, Ouija doesn't manage to incite fear in its audience. The film begins by identifying that there is a dark presence in the house that has been haunting Laine's friend, Debbie. From there, each of the supporting characters are introduced. As expected, Ouija features a bunch of exposable "teenagers," who fit directly into the cookie cutter horror clichés that we've all come to expect. Fortunately, writers Juliet Snowden and Stiles White are smart enough to not invest too much time in developing them, and try to keep the attention focused on the supernatural aspects of the picture. However, each time that we return back to Laine and her social circle's drama, we start sympathizing with the evil spirits that have to deal with them.
Unfortunately, the characters aren't the film's biggest problem. Ouija just isn't very scary. There are plenty of jump scares to be found, but they can be spotted from miles away. Rather than sustaining an eerie atmosphere in order to dig under our skin, it seeks to make us jump with cheap scares that are hardly even incorporated into the story. After all, we've got to look out for what friend from the group could be standing behind the open closet door. Unintentional laughs are abundant, as it begins to feel very much like a made-for-TV horror flick. It has a severe lack of tension and sense of rhythm. However, that isn't to say that there isn't a single decent scare in the entire picture. It does manage to deliver one sequence involving a flashlight and a creepy doll that makes for a strong display of atmosphere. It's a shame that these more subtle scares have not been further incorporated in order to provide a chilling cinema experience that will leave us afraid to go near another Ouija board.
For a film that has a short running time of under 90 minutes, it's surprising that White and Snowden seem to be fishing for ways to extend the picture's third act, as Laine and her friends try to stop the evil spirit that they have come into contact with from hurting anybody else. Just when you're hoping that the credits are going to start rolling, the story keeps going. Ouija is clearly a film for teenage girls who are looking for something to see on a Friday night. It really doesn't do much for true horror crowds, as it employs twists and turns that have been utilized dozens of times throughout the course of different motion pictures. With the exception of some laughs to be had, there really isn't anything interesting happening within the running time. This is a horror film with all bark and no bite.
While the dialogue isn't particularly fantastic, the acting doesn't necessarily help. Olivia Cooke feels incredibly wooden in the role of Laine Morris. The remainder of the supporting cast does what they can, but there isn't much that can be done with the material, other than simply reading the lines. Surprisingly, Shelley Hennig provides the most energetic scenes of the film in the role of Debbie, as she delivers more charm and charisma in her short time on screen than any other cast member can muster throughout the entire running time. As we watch some of the videos that she recorded previously, intentional laughs are present, and we actually buy her personality. It's too bad that the film doesn't focus on her.
The biggest compliment that can be stated about Ouija is that of the atmosphere. It might not be scary, but White manages to deliver a tone that sets the scene rather well. Shadows are utilized to their full effect in order to give the feeling that the evil presence is always around the characters. Even as Laine and her friends continue to play with the board, there are some rather decent build-ups, but it's the execution that doesn't entirely follow through. Similar to other teenage horror films, the sound design is loud with jump scares and other effects, which will be effective in what they set out to achieve. It's just a shame that the quality of the scares couldn't match up to that of the atmosphere created.
Even though writers Juliet Snowden and Stiles White surely had the best of intentions, Ouija simply follows an uninspired direction that goes nowhere. We aren't invested in the characters and the scares will be ineffective for those accustomed to the genre. However, the film isn't completely without its moments, and teenagers might find more to like here. Unfortunately, it doesn't manage to deliver any chills or thrills for the rest of us. We've all heard about the dangers of playing with a Ouija board, but none of that fear of the unknown is portrayed here. Ouija fails to incite terror at every opportunity. Skip it.