The Hasbro company seems to be enjoying a good relationship with Hollywood these days. After the modest success of Battleship, it is now focused on the board games in its library. I’m sure Candyland will hit the big screen at some point and possibly a remake of the hilarious comedy Clue. Movies based on toys and games can be interesting if you play to the satire of centering your plot around something we don’t take very seriously. The Lego Movie was a huge hit this year and much of that is attributed to directors Lord and Miller. It was silly throughout, but it rewarded the audience with great sight gags and terrific characters. So what would be the best way to handle a supernatural horror movie based on a ghost-summoning board game? Unfortunately pretty much the same way any movie lacking originality would handle it.
In the movie Ouija, directed by Stiles White, a high school student named Laine Morris(Olivia Cooke) is mourning the sudden suicide of her best friend Debbie. After the mother goes away to grieve with relatives, Laine looks after her house and discovers a spirit board in Debbie’s room. Her childhood memories of playing the game encourage her to reach beyond the grave using the board as a telephone to call out to Debbie. She convinces her friends, including Debbie’s boyfriend and Laine’s sister, to participate one evening in a spirit board seance. A couple of rules are given out on what not to do with the board, some words are recited to initiate the call, and off they go. As you would expect, someone does make contact with the group and, after a few scares, they find themselves inexplicably linked to the board and the spirit. Marked for death until one of them can uncover the mystery of the spirits and what they are after.
The movie rushes the plot points while still managing to drag in places. Characters are introduced so nonchalantly that when they do show up to offer help, you don’t really care what they say. The suspense is short-lived, but what suspense there is gets tempered by formulaic dialogue. Debbie’s boyfriend just spits out his lines like he’s reciting the ingredients in a recipe. None of the teenagers in this group show any personality other than being concerned about their fate and looking mildly worried.
The biggest flaw this movie suffers from is the lack of a buildup to something important. In the movie Stir of Echoes, Kevin Bacon’s character had to decipher the clues leading up to a young girl’s death and disappearance. The pace and suspense were constructed well and you were invested in the outcome. In Ouija the mystery is uncovered immediately and the resolution soon after. No interesting visuals to draw us in or paranoid characters trying to avoid certain doom. Just bland conversations and exposition after exposition. I did learn that the device used to read the words on the board is called a planchette and the lens in the center can be used to see the dead if they are in the room. Something they could have played with a little more, but decided not to.
One small saving grace is the contribution of Lin Shaye as Paulina Zander, a woman who has tons of exposition for our cursed teens. Lin’s work as a medium in the Insidious films is a pleasure and she ups the crazy factor in this one even more. They don’t give her many scenes and her talents are somewhat wasted here, but she makes her moments stand out more than any ghost scare the movie could conjure up. Why they couldn’t put more thought into everyone else’s lines is the real mystery.
There was a decent concept that got ignored in the script and that’s the fact that everybody knows about Ouija boards, and they never refer to it with that name in this movie, but it’s just one of many board games collecting dust on a shelf. If there was ever any inherent danger having one, wouldn’t those rules you should always follow, lest you incur the wrath of the undead, have caused more situations across the country such as suicidal teens or strange deaths à la Final Destination. They hinted at some folk-lore that surrounds spirit boards and, for the sake of this movie, turns out to be true, but they don’t expand on that idea. It’s a just because approach which isn’t good enough when you’ve already lost interest in who dies. The story needed more satire to say the least and a much more clever idea involving this game.
I can’t necessarily recommend this movie, but it does have a few scares and a younger audience might actually enjoy it, especially the short running time. If it does lead to a sequel, they better have something better for the characters to say next time. Or maybe just save your money for Magic 8 Ball: The Movie. Nothing is off limits these days.
Synopsis: A group of friends must confront their most terrifying fears when they awaken the dark powers of an ancient spirit board.
Directors: Stiles White
Writers: Juliet Snowden, Stiles White
Stars: Olivia Cooke, Ana Coto, Daren Kagasoff, Bianca A. Santos, Douglas Smith
Runtime: 89 Minutes
October 24, 2014