While there are an unlimited number of brilliantly eloquent metaphors a film critic can use to describe what an utter travesty Ouija is, no words need to be uttered beyond “Ouija is bad.” I could end my review right there and you’d all be wiser knowing that simple descriptor, plus I wouldn’t have to waste another 600 or so words explaining why Ouija embodies everything wrong with today’s mainstream horror scene. Writer/Director Stiles White and co-writer Juliet Snowden take a steaming, repugnant turd directly onto the horror genre’s chest and don’t even say thank you, laughing their way into theaters nationwide.
But who am I kidding? Ouija is going to walk away a box office champion when the weekend numbers are tallied, so my disapproval really won’t mean a lick in the grand scheme of things. Movies of this quality level will still cheaply be cranked out by studios looking for a quick hit, and fanboys like myself will continue to shake their fist at the sky in aggravation. Congratulations on lowering an already basement-level bar for future horror films Team Ouija, now go away and never come back…until Ouija 2, because everyone knows that atrocity is only a massive October payday away.
Olivia Cooke stars as Lanie Morris, a high school student coping with the death of her best friend Debbie (Shelley Hennig) after an apparent suicide. Refusing to believe Debbie could kill herself, Lanie convinces her friends to use an Ouija board in an attempt to uncover what really happened. Bringing together her boyfriend (Daren Kagasoff), sister (Ana Coto), friend (Bianca A. Santos) and Debbie’s boyfriend (Douglas Smith), the group connects with a spirit they assume is Debbie. But as her answers become stranger, the presence of another spirit is discovered and the friends find themselves battling a paranormal force to be reckoned with.
You’ll notice that I didn’t bother mentioning anyone else’s name, because none of them matter in the least. I rather like Olivia Cooke in her other roles, especially The Quiet Ones, but the rest of these generic characters offer absolutely no substance for the smattering of fresh-faced young actors. There’s a sassy friend, Boyfriend #1, Boyfriend #2, and Lanie’s sister (to create an emotional tie), yet I’ve seen more character development in television commercials about baked beans. Lanie would often mutter something about being so distraught over someone’s death, yet her conveyed attachment comes across so horrendously staged based on the tiny spoonful of establishing shots building dynamics between each character.
The horrors of Ouija boil down to a barrage of nonsense jump scares that brutishly punk respecting horror fans praying for an actual scare. I can think of two ghostly moments worthy of a terrified gasp, but their proper execution becomes outweighed by the billion other times Boyfriend #2 comes in a room unannounced because using the front door just isn’t cool enough. White’s comprehension of horror is as childish as Hasbro’s weakest board games, confusing actual horror with lazy, repetitive filmmaking that represents the most offensive of insults to true genre fans. As I’ve said time and time again, anyone can create a scare – a jumping cat or a friend hidden behind an open door – but it takes a true auteur to conjure vivid horror. Ouija opts for the simple cash-in, and suffers dearly.
It doesn’t help that Ouija is essentially braindead, and not even in a laughably entertaining type of way. If I were to discuss all the bland cliches repurposed by White and Snowden, this review might go into 5,000 word territory. Don’t worry, I’ll avoid putting you all to sleep, but a few of my favorite scenes really drive home how unforgivably silly Lanie’s escapades become – like Daren Kagasoff’s bike ride to nowhere.
After connecting with who the kids think is Debbie, there’s a cutscene of each character separately discovering the words “Hi Friend” wherever they might be. Smith sees it carved into his character’s desk, Cooke sees it typed on her laptop, and Kagasoff sees it written in chalk while riding his bike through what looks like the creepiest abandon underpass he could find. He has no goal in mind, yet rides directly to the most unnecessarily ominous location possible, like he put “Closest Place Where It Looks Like I Can Get Stabbed” into his GPS. The scene is hilarious because Kagasoff rides with vigor, like a man on a mission, yet there’s absolutely no reason for his character to seek out such a random, pointless location. Ouija is the kind of horror movie where its characters have obviously NEVER seen an actual horror movie before, and make every obvious mistake along the way.
Ouija is like going to Gordon Ramsay’s flagship restaurant for dinner and being served nothing but frozen entrees. What? You asked for dinner, and the restaurant delivered exactly that. In the same vein, you walk into Ouija expecting some type of competent horror watch, yet you’re shown a redundantly useless rehashing of spineless jump-scares and thoughtless scripting. Ouija proves time and time again that it doesn’t care about paying respect to the horror Gods, which in turn makes us question why we’d respect such a crass attempt to bully its way into horror glory. Just pay your best friend whatever a ticket costs and have him jump out at random times for an hour and a half of your day – it’ll be money well spent compared to watching Ouija.
Ouija? More like Ouij-NO! Yes, that's the most effort I'm putting into a witty summation, as it's equal to the effort that Ouija's filmmakers put into making an actual horror movie.