'Ouija': Film Review

Play the game instead

A group of teens attempt to contact the spirit of their late friend in this horror movie based on the classic Hasbro game

In theory, a horror movie based on the Ouija board game seemed like a pretty good idea. After all, what teenager hasn't spent at least one night with his or her friends trying to scare themselves silly contacting the dead? Unfortunately, Universal's low-budget quickie aimed at young audiences hopelessly squanders the opportunity, being less scary than landing in jail while playing Monopoly. Profits are assured in this current undemanding horror movie marketplace when even a mediocrity like Annabelle can become a major hit, and Hasbro will certainly reap the benefits just in time for the holiday season. But creatively speaking, Ouija is dead on arrival.

The film's plot is set in motion when teenage golden girl Debbie (Shelley Hennig) finds an antique Ouija game in her home and makes the cardinal mistake of playing it alone. She not surprisingly winds up dead shortly thereafter, an apparent suicide, and her grieving friends decide to attempt to contact her in the time-honored tradition.

The group, led by the intrepid Laine (Olivia Cooke), seems to hit pay dirt at first, getting in contact with a spirit calling itself "DZ." But afterwards things become spooky when each receives the same message, "Hi, friend," transmitted in various forms including the inevitable flashing computer screen. And the spirit soon turns murderous, dispatching her victims in gruesome ways including, in an imaginative conceit that will surely not please the dentistry profession, death by dental floss.

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Laine's search for answers leads her to a former resident of Debbie's home, Paulina (Lin Shaye) now confined in a forbidding mental institution. The elderly woman informs her that the spirit she and her friends contacted was not in fact Debbie, but rather … well, better not to spoil the film's few wan surprises.

In the absence of anything truly original in the screenplay he co-wrote with Juliet Snowden, director Stiles White vainly attempts to ratchet up the tension with a series of cheap jump scares fueled by loud noises that are the cinematic equivalent of shaking hands with someone wearing a joy buzzer. At the preview screening attended, the technique produced the inevitable screams quickly followed by bursts of laughter, which at least had the effect of relieving the torpor of the sluggishly paced proceedings.

The photogenic young ensemble composed of television veterans, including Douglas Smith (Big Love), Bianca Santos (The Fosters) and Hennig (Days of Our Lives) fails to make much of an impression, with the exception of Cooke, so impressive in AMC's Bates Motel, who seems destined for bigger and better things. The true standout is Shaye (the younger sister of New Line Cinema founder Robert Shaye), who's genuinely creepy as the wheelchair-bound mental patient with a secret agenda.

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"Do not go seeking answers from the dead," warns a concerned elderly character at one point in the film. That advice naturally goes unheeded by the reckless teens, as it certainly will by impressionable younger viewers who will no doubt rush out to buy their own Ouija boards and later line up for this intended franchise starter's inevitable sequels.  

Production: Platinum Dunes, Blumhouse Productions in association with Hasbro Studios
Cast: Olivia Cooke, Daren Kagasoff, Douglas Smith, Bianca Santos, Shelley Hennig, Ana Coto, Lin Shaye
Director: Stiles White
Screenwriters: Juliet Snowden, Stiles White
Producers: Michael Bay, Andrew Form, Brad Fuller, Jason Blum, Bennet Schneir
Executive producers: Juliet Snowden, Couper Samuelson, Jeanette Volturno-Brill, Brian Goldner, Stephen David
Director of photography: David Emmerichs
Production designer: Barry Robison
Editor: Ken Blackwell
Costume Designer: Mary Jane Fort
Composer: Anton Sanko
Casting: Nancy Nayor

Rated PG-13, 83 minutes