There’s a certain quaintness to Ouija, the supernatural horror film based on the game that allowed slumber-partiers to mess around with the occult. Were it not for the omnipresence of smartphones and a scene where a character watches an expositionally helpful YouTube video, the film could easily be a relic from back when Parker Brothers first flooded the toy market with Ouija boards in the ’60s. None of the clean-cut teen stars in the cast smoke, drink, do drugs, have sex, or get even remotely nude (when one character is dispatched as she’s drawing a bath, she’s still wearing her socks). There’s no real gore and nothing beyond what looks like a relatively minor effects budget, so without the usual trappings of a pick-em-off scare flick, Ouija has to rely on atmosphere and narrative.
It excels at neither. To director Stiles White’s credit, the movie takes its time building a world, beginning with an opening sequence in which the hero, Laine (Bates Motel‘s Olivia Cooke), checks in on her troubled best pal, Debbie (Shelly Hennig, of MTV’s Teen Wolf). Debbie and Laine played with the Ouija when they were kids, and Debbie may have accidentally unleashed something sinister with it.
Once the ground rules are established, and it turns out that the spirit of a girl murdered in Debbie’s house decades ago is using our well-scrubbed crew as conduits for a resurrection (and knocking people off when she sees fit), the atmosphere created by White and cinematographer David Emmerichs falls away, and focus shifts to the thudding script. The early part of Ouija has some creepy bits that thankfully don’t rely on simple sound gags. And it has the decency to not be a found-footage movie. But once the plot machinations kick in, it becomes kind of goofy, even for a film about malevolent ghosts who possess people through a board game. Ouija is one of those movies where everything is easily solved, even though those solutions are completely absurd, and the climax relies on both the advice of a character we barely know and a totally dopey deus ex machina. Within the pungent field of other wide-release scare jobs and films derived from cardboard-based time-killers for kids, Ouija stacks up relatively well, thanks to its look and a confident performance by Cooke. That said, it’s still best left on the shelf. C-