[Screen It]

"OUIJA"
(2014) (Olivia Cooke, Ana Coto) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Horror: Following the apparent suicide death of their friend, a group of high school students try to contact her with a Ouija board, unaware of what they're about to unleash.
PLOT:
High school students Laine Morris (OLIVIA COOKE) and Debbie Galardi (SHELLEY HENNIG) have been friends since they were kids and used to play with Debbie's Ouija board. When Debbie finds another one of those in her attic and then hangs herself in her home, Laine, along with Debbie's boyfriend, Pete (DOUGLAS SMITH), are devastated. Feeling guilty that she didn't stay with her friend the night before, and desperately needing answers, Laine proposes that she, her boyfriend Trevor (DAREN KAGASOFF), her younger sister Sarah (ANA COTO), and their waitress friend Isabelle (BIANCA SANTOS) use the board to try to contact Debbie.

Joined by Pete in Debbie's home that Laine is house-sitting while her grieving family is away, they use the Ouija board and are shocked to see that it apparently works. But they're terrified to learn that rather than having contacted Debbie's spirit, they've connected with another.

After doing some research, Laine ends up visiting Paulina Zander (LIN SHAYE), a long-institutionalized older woman who formerly lived in Debbie's home with her sister and mother. Hearing what they've done, Paulina informs Laine that evil has been released, a point proved by the unexpected deaths of some of those in their small group. From that point on, Laine tries to resolve the matter before it's too late for her and the rest.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
When we were growing up in the 1960s and '70s, we had various board games, much like most every other household in the United States. We liked some more than others, and a number were well worn by the time we outgrew them. One that barely got used, however, was our Ouija board. It's not because we were scared to use it or had summoned up some spooky ghost or dark spirit by interacting with it. Instead, it was the exact opposite. The darn thing didn't work, much to our dismay, and it was summarily shelved and rarely brought out.

That said, I remember being surprised by our next door neighbors' mom who wouldn't allow one of those "games" into her house due to the occult connection long attached to it. I always argued that the board was manufactured by Parker Brothers (the same folks behind Monopoly, Clue, Risk and Sorry!) and thus likely wasn't some gateway to the spirit world. And maybe that was our problem -- we had to believe to make it actually work.

In horror films that use such devices as conduits for the spooky stuff to follow, there are the believers in such items, but also -- and usually in far greater number -- the skeptics who dismiss the claims. Yet, unlike in real life (or at least our experience with our Ouija board), those naysayers nearly always get their comeuppance when ignoring the dangers of dabbling in the occult.

Such is the case in "Ouija," the latest horror film to feature the popular board game that's appeared in other genre entries, including, most famously, "The Exorcist" more than 40 years ago (now that's scary!). Featuring cheap "jump scenes" rather than actual spooky terror, possessing (get it?) a fairly bland cast, and your standard array of dumb character actions, the flick offers few true frights and will be as instantly forgettable as our old board game version of it somewhere on some back shelf.

In the film, Olivia Cook stars as Laine, a high school student whose best friend has seemingly just committed suicide after messing with a Ouija board and breaking the apparent cardinal rule of using it by oneself. Not understanding why her friend took this drastic action, she and a small group of other high school students (played by Ana Coto, Daren Kagasoff, Douglas Smith and Bianca Santos) try to use the board to contact their friend for some 'splaining. Shock of all shocks, they unleash a bad spirit and must deal with the consequences. Oh, and they dig into the past to find some messed up family dynamics that have led to their current supposed spooky quandary.

There's absolutely nothing here you haven't seen before and the only slightly interesting thing -- and I emphasize "slightly" -- that writers Juliet Snowden and Stiles White come up with is a brief supernatural switcheroo regarding what Michael Jackson once sang out ("Who's bad?"). But that does nothing to elevate that part, let alone the entire film, from its otherwise boring conventions and clichés. Left without much recourse, White (making his debut behind the camera) tries mightily hard to introduce some jolts to keep the audience awake, but most are telegraphed far too much and all certainly rely far too heavily on accompanying sudden and loud music to accentuate the point.

If I ever come across another Ouija board and decide to give it another try, I'm going to attempt to contact horror filmmakers from the past -- who've already passed on -- and ask them why most current filmmakers seemingly are unable to make truly unnerving and scary films nowadays. Their answer might truly be scary. "Ouija" isn't and thus rates as just a 3.5 out of 10.




Reviewed October 22, 2014 / Posted October 24, 2014


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