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Review: Ouija (2014)

Ouija (2014)

Directed by: Stiles White

Premise: Based on the Hasbro board game. A group of teenagers use a Ouija board after the mysterious death of a friend. This results in strange supernatural occurrences.

What Works: Ouija is a PG-13 horror film and horror titles with that rating are almost exclusively intended for the youth market. This is a movie that was made to appeal to viewers between the ages of twelve and seventeen years old who are looking to get scared but can’t get into R-rated fare and don’t have discerning cinematic tastes. For that specific audience, Ouija will probably do its job. The film has a handful of spooky sequences, especially the scene in which the teenagers initially contact the dead through the board, and there are a few boo moments that will give inexperienced viewers a jump. 

What Doesn’t: Because Ouija is intended for younger viewers it’s easy greet it with lowered expectations and PG-13 titles tend to be dismissed by experienced horror fans. This is a mistake. Just because it’s intended for a younger audience does not mean that Ouija should be given a relaxed evaluation and there are plenty of films with less than a restricted rating that are well made and very scary such as The Ring and Poltergeist. This movie is nowhere near the league of those pictures nor does it measure up to more recent scary films for general audiences like The Woman in Black and Drag Me to Hell. There are a lot of problems with Ouija. The central characters are supposed to be high school students but several of the cast members are obviously in their late twenties. Aside from their physical maturity, none of these characters do the things that normal teenagers would do; they don’t go to school or do homework and so the filmmakers miss the main allure of teenage characters – the corruption of their innocence. The story of Ouija is full of logical lapses. Supernatural stories inherently have an illogical component to them but there are a lot of story elements of Ouija that don’t make any sense. The film opens with a teenager committing suicide. While the main character and her associates are grieving over the death of their friend, all of their parents, including the parents of the deceased teenager, leave town. There are other storytelling inconsistencies throughout the movie and these flaws are so annoying because the story is never involving. Like a lot of supernatural thrillers of this kind, Ouija is a mystery in which the characters must uncover and expose a terrible secret in order to set things right. The mystery is handled clumsily. The characters have most of the mystery spelled out for them or jump to unprompted conclusions.  There is no tension in this film and it never feels as though it is building toward a climax. This results in Ouija being a horror film that isn’t very scary. The movie has a few jumps but that’s different from creating fear; anyone would jump at a sudden loud noise and that’s what this movie frequently does. The filmmakers of Ouija are unable to cultivate an atmosphere of dread between the shocks. They barely even try. But maybe that’s all beside the point. Ouija is a product of Platinum Dunes, the Michael Bay affiliated studio that produced the remakes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and A Nightmare on Elm Street. In those cases, the studio took up established brands and created new versions of classic movies that were devoid of anything interesting. With Ouija, Platinum Dunes has partnered with toy manufacturer Hasbro and adapted their Ouija board game into a motion picture. This film isn’t so much a piece of cinema as it is an industrial product and a promotional tool in the form of a motion picture. That gives Ouija’s obvious lack of effort a much more sinister dimension, although probably not in a way its filmmakers intended.

Bottom Line: Ouija is a lazily made movie in which story and scares are all secondary to selling more of Hasbro’s board games. This movie is a cynical cash grab and little else.

Episode: #517 (November 9, 2014)