Scrape the Bottom of Horror’s Barrel with OUIJA

Ouija. 2014. Directed by Stiles White. Screenplay by White & Juliet Snowden.
Starring Olivia Cooke, Ana Coto, Daren Kagasoff, Bianca A. Santos, Douglas Smith, Shelley Hennig, Sierra Heuermann, Sunny May Allison, Lin Shaye, & Claudia Katz Minnick.
Blumhouse Productions/Universal Pictures/ Platinum Dunes/Hasbro Studios.
Rated PG-13. 89 minutes.

posterAfter seeing over 4,200 films and counting, a good third at least horror, I don’t find myself becoming less impressed. I find lots of movies that I consider really good to great. But no doubt, there are plenty of shitty flicks in the midst of all those solid ones. Ouija is up there with a nice few other modern horror movies, which try so hard to be their own thing while wallowing in the waters of mediocre to trash fare.
Honestly, as soon as I saw Hasbro was actually producing this a huge red flag went up. It’s just like Battleship, and now there are other ridiculous movies being produced based on board games and things like Tetris. I mean, at least Clue was produced by Debra Hill! And had John Landis co-writing the script.
So, sure, Ouija‘s different because it has a horror angle, a bit of fantasy. Yet instead of trying to do something original this rehashes plot and scares that have been done before, and done much better.
Mainly my biggest problem is that the whole film is so bland. Other than an appearance by Lin Shaye – not very long either, mind you – there’s nothing exciting about the acting. Unfortunate, since I love Olivia Cooke in her role on Bates Motel. Then with no real suspense or tension, tame and watered down horror in place of anything properly haunting, Ouija strikes out on almost all counts. If it weren’t for a few decent scenes and an okay finale there’d be nothing much at all to enjoy.
pic1Director Stiles White and his wife Juliet Snowden co-wrote this together. Before now I’d seen their previous writing efforts in the barely competent Nic Cage flick Knowing and The Possession (another lukewarm story). Suffice to say their talent hasn’t gotten any better. Worse, in fact. Right from the start Ouija seems like some other movie. The opening is like part The Ring and a warmed over version of so many other horror film opening sequences that everything begins on faulty ground. Does nothing to capture your attention uniquely, and it makes you feel like whispering under your breath: “Ahhh, this again.” I’ll give them this – the image of Debbie (Shelley Hennig) hanging herself with the string of lights is excellently macabre, the best part of the first ten minutes.
There’s nothing overly amazing in terms of imagery, or even just the cinematography itself. Although I do dig the look, as it keeps things appropriately dark and doesn’t attack your eyes with hideously low lighting when there’s no need (as many crap modern horrors seem to do). The score is all right, but again it doesn’t jump out at me. Fairly generic. Disappointing and strange to me, seeing as how composer Anton Sanko did the music for Strangeland and John Cameron Mitchell’s intense drama Rabbit Hole. Sanko seems to have followed that interesting work with some junk horror movies – The PossessionNurse 3DJessabelle. Too bad that earlier work didn’t translate into at least a few interesting compositions. The music is like the same old stuff you’ve heard a hundred times.
pic3There’s generally an overall lack of any genuine suspense or tension. The plot’s events are too predictable. There’s the board moving on its own, figures in the mirror. Typical horror plot from beginning to end. Ouija moves from one horror trope to the next, never copying anything outright to the point of plagiarist ridicule, yet also never doing anything remotely original with its concept. Witchboard is a far better Ouija board-centric horror; that’s saying something.
My biggest beef? The stitched floss mouth scene. First off, I love the floss sewing up the mouth. Creepy. But then after the girl is possessed, she starts floating off her feet. For the most part this movie doesn’t go for flying ghosts, so that part feels strange and doesn’t fit well. I also dig the gnarly addition of her forehead smashing off the sink; brutal horror-type stuff. I just don’t understand how this fits with the first death and how Debbie’s demise sets up the possessions. Very eerie to have the Ouija board spirit kill people off, but it needed to be better connected. Floss mouth was neat, however, including the head smash on the sink too seems like overkill, in the sense that there didn’t need to be any floating off the ground, magic-type stuff. The possession is enough! Could’ve just let her panic after the floss stitched her mouth shut, then have her slip on the water from the bathtub running over, and her head cracks open on the sink. Done. Rather than that this scene sticks out like a sore thumb, feeling mismatched and confused.
pic2There are a couple decent scenes, I have to admit. Particularly I love Lin Shaye’s few moments when we get more of the Ouija board’s backstory. She adds a tiny air of credibility to the whole thing. Plus, her last scene is super intense; great acting. Other than that the predictable, circular ending opening up a possible sequel is boring, played out. To my surprise, Mike Flanagan (AbsentiaHushBefore I Wake) and frequent writing collaborator Jeff Howard are in charge of the next film, a prequel called Ouija: Origin of Evil. Really don’t know how that’ll turn out, although I’m excited for anything Flanagan chooses to involve himself in. It’ll have to be better than this one.
I would not recommend Ouija. Unless you’re looking for something to toss on around Halloween with a few friends, to pick apart and joke about. You’ll find a couple little chilly moments, but don’t count on many. Mostly this walks through a lot of familiar territory with half the enjoyment of another similar movie you’ve seen before.

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