The makers of Ouija accomplished exactly what they set out to do: produce a low-budget movie for teenage girls and make quadruple the return on investment (on opening weekend, no less). Unfortunately, that was the only successful element of the laughable, board game-inspired film. Screenwriters Juliet Snowden and Stiles White infused elements from the entire horror genre (loud noises, crazy old women, a creaky attic) and somehow made them as dull and non-threatening as possible in the 89-minute flick. The story begins with friends Debbie and Laine as little girls, playing a Ouija board and discussing the three main rules: do not play alone, do not play in a graveyard, and always say goodbye.
Do not play alone: The film picks up a decade later as, “Debbie,” (Shelley Hennig) now a teenager, breaks the first rule and suffers the consequences. Since she played alone, she awakened a spirit in her house that causes her to tear down her room’s twinkle-lights, wrap them around her neck and hang, lifeless, in her house’s foyer. Her best friend “Laine” (Olivia Cooke) refuses to believe Debbie killed herself and enlists the help of her model-esque friends to get some answers by performing a séance around the ancient Ouija board.
Do not play in a graveyard: Almost the entire film is set in Debbie’s house as the friends search for clues in a dusty attic and obligatory, dark and scary basement. Although the Scooby gang doesn’t break the first two rules, they die one-by-one (on par with most horror flicks) for seemingly no reason. The spirit simply wants them dead and kills them by sewing each of their mouths shut with dental floss. Laine is left to figure out the mystery of the house’s spirits and pieces together clues from faded pictures and old newspaper headlines to end the madness.
Always say goodbye: Saying goodbye was an easy task for audience members seeing Ouija. A movie targeting a younger female audience or claiming to be on a micro-budget are not excuses for bad storytelling. There have been movies like Paranormal Activity made for a fraction of the cost that use narrative, suspense, and psychological thrills to keep the audience engaged and satisfied. Ouija tries to implement a little bit of everything but ultimately ends up with nothing at all. There are a few loud noises and a handful of disturbing images, but the lackluster backstory failed to enhance the already-pointless plot.
Originally intended to be a risky $200 million blockbuster, the film’s budget was reduced to $5 million and given relatively unknown actors to play one-dimensional roles. Olivia Cooke did a fine job as lead protagonist Laine, but coming from her role as sickly sidekick Emma Decody in the bone-chilling Bates Motel, she had to have known this was a big step down in quality material. I can imagine the amateur, problematic script was the main reason for the budget cut, but again, there have been plenty of noteworthy horror films made with less money than Ouija.
Review © Brigid K. Presecky (10/26/14)
Top Photo: Shelley Hennig as “Debbie” looking for a spirit in her house
Bottom Photo: Olivia Cooke (center) as “Laine” with Daren Kagasoff as “Trevor,” Bianca A. Santos as “Isabelle,” Douglas Smith as “Pete,” and Ana Coto “Sarah” as they try to summon Debbie’s spirit
Q #1: Does Ouija pass the Bechdel Test?
Yes, the friendship between Laine and Debbie is one of the major plotlines that is supposed to illicit emotion from the audience. There are videos of the friends shopping and taking pictures and promising to decorate their dorm rooms with purple furniture. Although it does pass the Bechdel Test, I cannot recommend the film.