Director: Stiles White
Stars: Olivia Cooke, Ana Coto
1 Globe (out of 5)
Let’s not be cynical: One could definitely make a spooky, rousing little number out of a movie about Ouija boards —the bestselling “spirit boards” where you and your friends pretend to communicate with the dead, even though at least one of you is definitely moving the “planchette” indicator thing, because there are no such things as ghosts. A Ouija movie would just be a ghost movie, and theoretically it’s not hard to make a good one of those. All you need is strong camerawork and a little imagination. Nothing in “The Conjuring” is particularly original, and it barely makes sense, but it has an ever-prowling camera and a sickening mood of unease (and overqualified actors). Had it aimed for even a little bit of craft and “Ouija” could have even been great.
Instead it’s not great. It’s product placement couched inside a nothing of a horror film —a humorless, snail-paced, unaccountably solemn drag with nothing up its sleeve but loud noises, boo shocks and a tiresome mystery involving arbitrary rules and missions. Initially “Ouija” looks like it might be tongue-in-cheek: Two little girls play with a board, one holding the translucent part of the planchette up to look for ghosts and only seeing her sister. A self-knowing comedy would have been tiresome, but much worse is the boring, lifeless product “Ouija” becomes. It’s a movie about dumb teens staring wide-eyed while fiddling with a kitschy board you can buy at Toys R Us for under 15 bucks, but the filmmakers think they’re making a particularly dull rendition of “Hamlet.”
Said dumb teens inadvertently summon an angry ghost, one who likes to close doors, open doors and turn on stoves (a technique that was already silly in “Annabelle,” from earlier this month). Eventually it starts picking off the cast, either by forcing them to commit suicide or just offing them the old fashioned way. A film like this needs to be a style machine, but director Stiles White has little in his arsenal. He keeps his camera moving, but it’s purposeless, unmotivated moving, as though he pushed it on a dolly just to keep the crew from falling asleep. (The actors appear to be doped up on Dramamine.) White tries to make the Ouija board itself scary, but he has few ideas: Sometimes he dollies in on the board, as though the board in itself was scary; multiple times he puts the planchette on the ground, where people can almost trip on it. Not since the killer lamp from “Amityville 4” has the attempt to turn a non-threatening thing into a threat failed so spectacularly.
The worst part? It doesn’t even promise more movies. The makers of “Ouija” utterly fail at world building, never indulging in creating a wider myth around their silly gimmick. It’s a self-contained story about people communicating with an inexplicably angry/powerful ghost. Ouija boards are crammed away in every closet in America —are there more cases like this one? How is there not an intense air of mystery around boards that have been, in some form, around since the 10th century? The token Hispanic maid says something about them being evil, but the script could lose Ouija boards all together and still roughly be the same. It’s a lazy shocker that would ordinarily be buried around page 10 of Netflix Instant’s horror section, accidentally released into multiplexes because of one fit of corporate synergy. The only scary thing will be if viewers turn it into an annual franchise despite how little effort has gone into it. “Ouija” barely has enough for one entry let alone more.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge