October 24, 2014
Juliet Snowden and Stiles White
Olivia Cooke as Laine Morris
Ana Coto as Sarah Morris
Daren Kagasoff as Trevor
Bianca A. Santos as Isabelle
Douglas Smith as Pete
Shelley Hennig as Debbie Gelardi
Elise Rainier as Mrs. Zander
Ah, the Ouiji Board. After being introduced in 1890 as a harmless parlor game (Wilipedia), this toy has become connected to paranormal activity and communication with the dead… in spite of the fact that this board can be purchased at the local Walmart right next to Sorry and Chutes and Ladders. In terms of horror movie fodder, there are over a dozen modern films that have the word “Ouiji” somewhere in their title in the Internet Movie Dabatase today, with certainly more to come. In 2014 the film Ouija is here, starring the lovely and talented Ollivia Cooke as Laine Morris, a young woman tormented by the sudden death of her best friend Debbie (Shelley Hennig).
The film begins with Laine trying to convince Debbie to join her at a highschool basketball game. Debbie has been acting strange lately, and Laine thinks getting out will do her some good. Debbie declines though, and doesn’t tell that the reason is she’s got a wooden Ouija board burning in the fireplace. Unfortunately for Debbie the board appears on her bed later that night, and then without rhyme or reason Debbie hangs herself in the foyer of her house with a string of Christmas lights.
Desperate to find some closure and resolve her feelings about Debbie’s untimely death, Laine convinces her boyfriend (Daren Kagasoff), friend Isabelle (Bianca A. Santos), sister Sarah (Ana Coto) and Debbies (now ex) boyfriend Pete (Douglas Smith) to join her in a seance using the Ouiji board she found in Debbie’s closet to contact her departed friend. This fool’s errand brings about a connection between the teens and a malicious spirit, and they must find the secret to that connection if they are to have any hope of surviving.
The first half of Ouiji is a kind of slow burn while the tension builds and the characters are developed. Some may find this kind of activity boring, but others just might decide, in retrospect, that this is the best part of the film. For the most part, with the exception of Isabelle and Debbie’s boyfriend Pete, the characters reveal enough details to make sure that the audience at least cares a bit about them as they venture forth into danger. What happens after the first half will, for the hard core horror fans, be a laughable journey into the most goofy cliche’s imaginable, but for other general movie fans who may desire to venture into the “horror” realm occasionally these activities just might make sense.
Step by step each portion of the haunting mystery comes together, from the Internet evidence of sinister happenings in the very house where Debbie lived to the existence of a long lost sister of one of the inhabitants in a nearby looney bin. The pieces continue to come together when we learn that Laine’s grandmother inexplicably has deep knowledge of the occult and proceeds to guide Laine as to what to do next. She doesn’t help or get involved in any way, no… Laine is in high school after all and can presumably take care of herself. Plus maybe Grandma had a date. Luckily Laine’s father is off on a business trip, and Debbie’s parents just can’t stand the thought of sleeping in the house where their daughter breathed her last, so they of course ask Laine, Debbie’s best friend from infancy who definitely wouldn’t have any apprehensions of staying in the house, to house sit.
The best part of any ghost story is the appearance of the ghosts themselves, and in this regard Ouijid oes great. The ghosts are scary and there are a ton of great jump scares, plus having Elise Rainer (Insideous) as the crazy old woman who once lived in the house gives some terror credibility. The kills are actually pretty good too, though the PG-13 rating guarantees that they are not especially graphic. Ouiji is a teen movie with teen gore and a teen plot line. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but the fare is a bit light, predictable, formula and “neat” for aficionados of true macabre terror.
The acting performances are as good as they need to be, centered on current horror hot property Olivia Cooke. After a couple seasons on television’s “Bates Motel” she has gone on to appear in Indie film The Quiet Ones and The Signal in 2014, along with Ouija of course. Cooke has a good presence and generally acts her way through with credibility, though she does seem to handle the recurring deaths of her friends pretty well for a high schooler. The rest of the cast support the show, not standing out but not detracting too much from the real point – showing the audience the ghosts. One particular exception is the cameo by Elise Rainer as the elderly woman in a nut house. It’s pretty clear that Rainer filmed her two scenes in one day, and it shows. She gets through the lines and displays that face that means “horror” to so many after the Incideous movies, but all in all both exchanges with her are pretty goofy.
Ouija is a teen horror flick filling the Halloween void that is decidedly absent of yet another Saw,Paranormal Activity or Final Destination remake. With no real alternatives available in U.S. theaters in October 2014 Ouiji went on to a $20MM opening weekend, and will likely ride that wave a little further before it dies off. Not too bad for a reported $5MM budget. The horror fare is light, the storyline predictable, and the pieces of the puzzle come together just too conveniently for this film to be taken seriously, but maybe the younger set isn’t looking for serious horror, but just something useless to celebrate the season. If that’s you’re goal, enjoy.