WARNING: SPOILERS FOLLOW
As one of the final scenes in Ouija did its best to intensify, all I could focus on were the lights. Not the lights in the theater surrounding me, but the lights in the movie. In the scene, the main characters (a group of dumb and relentless teenagers) entered a house. Keep in mind that these kids exist today, in 2014. How do I know this? Because whenever someone calls them, they pull out their iPhones. When they get a text? iPhones. And when they’re walking through the dark house in need of a flashlight? You guessed it. iPhones. So as they entered the house and pulled out their iPhones, shining the small circle of light in front of them to guide their way through the darkness, my train of thought simply became, “Why don’t they flip on a light switch?” Do these filmmakers really expect to convince us that all houses inhabited by spirits or supernatural presences also suffer faulty electrical wiring? It’s a tiny complaint, I know. And I also know that seeing someone walk through a dark house with a flashlight in hand does help set a creepier atmosphere than if the lights were on, but as I see this more and more in modern horror, I just can’t seem to figure out why characters don’t at least try to flip a switch. So that was one problem I had while watching Ouija and that came near the end. An even bigger problem came after the credits rolled and that problem is this: the movie makes absolutely no sense, and if the filmmakers know more than I do, they certainly didn’t explain their reasoning in the script. More on that later.
I will not start dissing the movie right off the bat because of its inability to use a cool concept. The Ouija board is, in fact, a great idea for a horror movie. People have debated the usefulness, effects, and consequences of using a Ouija board for over a hundred years. A board game that gives people the ability to communicate directly with the dead is ripe for the choosing amongst horror ideas. So why doesn’t the aptly titled Ouija work? For starters, the story and characters surrounding the popular board game are completely forced, uninspired, and dull. The story starts with Debbie (Shelley Hennig) finding a Ouija board in her room, becoming possessed when looking through the hole on the planchette. Under the influence of the spirit, no doubt, she hangs herself with a strand of Christmas lights (this is in the first ten minutes of the movie and does feature a very nice camera shot of the lights being dragged across the floor toward and eventually past the camera lens.) Her best friend Laine, (Olivia Cooke, of Bates Motel fame) can’t believe she’s gone. And it’s not a matter of coming to terms with the death. She really can’t let go. So she takes to the Ouija board (they used to play with it when they were children) and for a large portion of the movie, her and her dumb friends think they are communicating with Debbie. But when certain things become evident, they realize they may be playing with something more sinister all around.
When this something more sinister is revealed, it isn’t a surprise. It wouldn’t be a horror movie without something scarier and uninvited coming into the picture. This something scarier and uninvited comes in the form of Mother, the spirit of a woman who used to live in the home where the recent suicide occurred. The woman, when alive, had two girls; one dead, her spirit dwelling in the home, mouth stitched up by the evil and murderous Mother, and the other alive (played by Lin Shaye from the Insidious movies.) Lin Shaye’s character tells Laine that in order to defeat Mother, she must find the dead sister’s corpse below the home and cut the stitches off so she can be free to defeat Mother. Until this happens in the finale of the film, there is much loss of life. The spirit is relentless. Mother wants to kill. Yada yada yada. The kicker is that nothing is scary. This is a PG-13 rated horror movie and you can say that you can only expect so much, but there have been quite a few PG-13 rated horror movies that have delivered some serious goods. Such films include Insidious, Drag Me To Hell, The Ring, and The Others, even though that last one could be considered more of a thriller with a game changing ending that stands as one of my favorite twists of all time. With Ouija, there isn’t a thing. No scares. If you call “jump scares” scares, then yeah, there are plenty of them. But they aren’t actually scares because they aren’t scary. Someone walks around a corner. BOOM. Loud sound effect. Don’t worry audience, it’s only a friend standing there. That’s not scaring your audience. And this movie is full of moments like that.
Unsurprisingly, this movie marketed toward and rated for a teenage audience is filled with stupid characters. This is problem in modern horror cinema. Characters can never get the message. At one point in the movie, Laine says, “We’re never playing that game again!” A few scenes later (in fact, I think it was only a few shots later), they get the board out. Just one last time won’t hurt will it? Actually it could be helpful, right? Note to filmmakers and screenwriters: it’s impossible to make your audience care about what happens to your characters when they are stupid kids making stupid decisions. As far as the actors themselves, no one gives a “good performance.” Everyone is throwaway, save for Olivia Cooke. I’m not only saying that because I watch Bates Motel and think that she is a strong female character in that show. She is excellent in it, and she is easily the best performer in this film. It’s not high praise for her from me, but at least she brings something to the table.
After about 75 minutes featuring a death, grief of said death, spirit communications, and harsh realizations, the movie takes a twist. I didn’t see it coming, I’ll give it that, but it’s not a remarkable change up by any means. After thinking the girls were talking to poor Debbie, we realized it was actually a little girl hiding from the sadistic Mother. The rest of the movie is devoted to having our characters (dumb as they may be) trying to stop Mother, even as she picks them off one by one. But after Laine finally cuts the little girl’s stitches in an effort to allow her to defeat Mother, it is revealed that the girl is in fact the wicked one. Mother was only trying to keep the group from freeing her, which they eventually did. Which means, in short, the entire movie makes no sense. Who was killing the group off? Mother was good, right? And only when the stitches were cut could the little girl be free to kill. So if it wasn’t the girl and it wasn’t Mother, who was it? It couldn’t have been Debbie, could it? It’s not that I really care about the movie, but if you have an explanation, please find a way to share it with me.
I’ll end this review by reminding you (or informing you if you didn’t know beforehand) that this movie is produced by Michael Bay. Not directed by him, no that unfortunate credit goes to Stiles White, this being his directorial debut. His former credits include writing on films like Knowing and The Possession and coordinating production on The Sixth Sense. Not a bad history at all. And for the most part, the movie is directed finely. Nothing great, but there are some nice shots here and there and the overall appearance of the picture is easy to look at. But it’s the bad writing and poor acting that drags the movie to the slumps in which it now dwells. Back to Michael Bay, he produced this picture. He also produced The Purge: Anarchy earlier this year, which was at least decent. But to the long list of Michael Bay horror productions like The Hitcher (2007), Friday the 13th (2009), and A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), add Ouija. Good idea, poor execution. Skip it.
Ouija (2014) 90 mins Rated PG-13 for disturbing violent content, frightening horror images, and thematic material Starring Olivia Cooke, Shelley Hennig, Douglas Smith Written by Juliet Snowden and Stiles White Directed by Stiles White