“Ouija” is scary, but not scary like Dracula, Edgar Allen Poe or hungry zombies. No, “Ouija” is scary because as I watched it I could feel my life slipping away, second-by-second, for ninety excruciating minutes.
The first Ouija board with an alphabet on it was patented in 1890. In the late 1960s they became a household item when Hasbro’s Parker Brothers began marketing them in 1966. If you haven’t played with one, you’ve certainly seen a witchboard in the movies and know when teens start ouijiing spiritual strife is just around the corner.
The trouble in “Ouija” begins when Debbie (Shelley Hennig) breaks the first rule of witchboarding: Never play alone. She pays a heavy price for her spiritual disobedience and soon her group of good-looking friends is gathered at her funeral. “She said she’d see us the next day,” says BFF Laine (Olivia Cooke). “Why would she say that?” We’ll never know… unless Laine pulls out the Ouija Board! Using Debbie’s board Laine and pals try and contact their dearly departed’s spirit, but instead unleash a demonic terror that threatens all of their lives.
As scary as you would imagine a horror film inspired by a board game to be, “Ouija” is a mishmash of demonology, Japanese horror and so many slasher movie tropes they owe John Carpenter and Wes Craven a writing credit. The blonde girl dies first, there’s spooky stuff in the attic and the plucky heroine outlives almost everyone. At least there’s very little found footage.
The movie is 5% jump scares, those unexpected loud noises that make you twitch in your seat, 67% set-up and 28% strange glances. As Laine, Debbie’s intrepid best friend, Cooke does most of the heavy lifting. She keeps the action (such that it is) moving forward all the while displaying her mastery of the concerned look. With a furrowed brow and a determined attitude she tracks down the mystery behind her friend’s death, but mostly she just looks concerned.
More annoying than the blank stares is the movie’s habit of telling the audience the most obvious of details. “She played it alone,” whispers Laine in amazement over a shot of, you guessed it, Debbie going solo on the Ouija board. Over footage of Deb saying she found the board in the attic Laine helpfully adds, “She found it in her house!” Instead of telling us something useful, or interesting, the film makes sure that no detail, no matter how small, is commented on.
You won’t need spiritual help to figure out whether to see “Ouija” or not. The planchette (the ouija’s triangular pointer) is aimed at “No.”