Satan himself couldn’t have put together a more heartless production team than the one responsible for Ouija. First there’s Platinum Dunes, the production company that sprang from the ass-obsessed mind of Michael Bay. For those who are unaware, Platinum Dunes is responsible for bastardizing many of our generation’s favorite franchises with unsavory remakes of Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Then there’s Hasbro, who seems hellbent on turning every popular toy and board game from the ‘80s into a dimwitted movie. Think Battleship, Transformers: Age of Extinction, and G.I. Joe: Retaliation.
So when I found out that these two titans of trash would be joining forces for the first time with Ouija, it seemed like a natural pairing. After all, both companies have made a killing by exploiting the nostalgia of Generation X and the Millennials. Together, the companies create a force of evil to be reckoned with, like two giant thugs ganging up on an unsuspecting victim in an alleyway. Platinum Dunes will probably put my childhood memories in a metaphoric stranglehold while Hasbro pummels them senseless with a series of equally metaphoric gut punches.
All this is a roundabout way of admitting that I went into Ouija with low expectations. Really low. I wish I’d been wrong; it would have made the next 80-plus minutes of my life a lot more bearable.
As suspected, Ouija is a lazy, mind-bogglingly predictable film. It begins by showing us two little girls playing the classic board game. This scene only exists to set up the game’s rules, which are: 1) you can never play the game alone, 2) you can never play the game in a graveyard, and 3) you must always say goodbye at the end of the game. Now, unless Hasbro has changed the rules in recent years, this is all utter horseshit. But writer and first-time director Stiles White needs these rules to build tension, or whatever resembles it in a PG-13 horror movie nowadays.
Flash-forward a few years, and we see these same two girls as high school seniors. We learn that nubile blonde Debbie (Shelley Hennig) just isn’t acting like herself lately, which worries her BFF Laine (Olivia Cooke). It turns out that Debbie found a dusty old Ouija board in her attic (obviously), and she played it by herself (filthy rule breaker). Since then, creepy shit started happening. So creepy, in fact, that Debbie commits suicide, tossing herself over a banister with a string of Christmas lights around her neck.
Immediately after Debbie’s funeral, Laine and her quasi-goth sister, Sarah (Ana Coto), are left alone when their dad goes away on business. Instead of calling child protective services to report her dad’s shitty parenting, Laine decides to gather together a group of friends, including her boyfriend (Daren Kagasoff), Debbie’s boyfriend (Douglas Smith), and another random girl named Isabelle (Bianca Santos). Ya see, Laine feels like she never got to say goodbye to Debbie, so she wants to hold a Ouija seance in hopes of communicating with her. Of course, instead of conjuring Debbie, the teens wind up unleashing the spirit of an evil little girl, who begins picking them all off one by one. Did I mention that they play this game of late-night Ouija in a house with a body buried in the basement, which technically makes it a graveyard?
The story unfolds exactly as you’d expect. Is there a frantic trip to an insane asylum? Yep. Is there a kindly Mexican housekeeper who warns the kids not to mess with the spirits of the dead? Of course. Is there a convoluted attempt to put a ghost’s soul at ease by digging up the corpse? Duh. Do the ghosts look like every other corny CGI specter you’ve seen in recent years, right down to the elongated jaws and shrill screams? You bet your bippy. Do the characters attempt to reassure themselves by screaming the phrase “It’s only a game!” every time something inexplicable happens? Uh-huh, three times for good measure.
In fact, if you can think of a horror cliche, it’s probably in this film. There isn’t an ounce of originality in the script — not in the dialogue, not in the kills, and not in the special effects. It’s so bad that the movie’s only glimmer of imagination — a lackluster and gore-free death that results from flossing — gets an unnecessary callback in the third act. I’d love to chalk that repetition up to the filmmakers’ shared hatred of gingivitis, but I can’t because it’s clearly just a lack of inspiration. When they’d pilfered all they could from their horror-movie contemporaries, they just decided to start copying themselves.
For a film that has so much working against it, this lack of originality is easily its biggest sin. Predictability is enemy number one when it comes to horror, a genre that depends so much on surprise and suspense to be effective. There’s simply nothing scary about watching scenes that you’ve already seen play out in dozens of other, better movies. It gets boring. Almost as boring as playing an actual game of Ouija.