By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
Hasbro is having a bad run of board games proving themselves as not being really adaptable to film. Only one film succeeded: Clue was hilariously fun. The rest sadly never lived up to their potential: Battleship sank, Dungeons and Dragons disappeared to direct to video mediocrity and Ouija, despite having good opening box office dollars in its first weekend, will most likely fade away when All Hallow’s Eve is over. Burning this board is not an option when considering this film has the signs of being a pure Hollywood manufacture stamped all over it.
The idea is based on reality, if the folklore is to be believed. Spiritualists used it as a means of contacting spirits and they would in hand respond by guiding the planchette to letters to spell out words, respond yes or no to, count or say goodbye. The question of what they summoned depends on whether that ghost of Uncle John is truly from Jamaica or Hell. In this film’s case, it an attempt by Laine (Olivia Cooke) to learn why her best friend Debbie (Shelley Hennig) hanged herself. Apparently, one of the first rules of Ouija is to never play the game alone, something Debbie didn’t adhere to. Other proprieties include invoking a small measure of protection, which never works in any horror film, and saying goodbye — the latter desire to see the ending couldn’t happen soon enough.
The film drags in most of its running time that sets up the character drama. Also, some cheesy moments are delivered so it can be out-of-the-way when the narrative matters. That includes creepy dolls, haunted mirrors and self-activating gas ovens. None of that explains why the house is suddenly haunted. Oh wait! It’s been occupied for some time by “neighbours” and that sort of explains why Debbie acted possessed as part of this film’s intro. By the time all of this girl’s friends know, they spend a few days grieving and trying to figure out why she took a turn for the worse.
There might have been a good dramatic film that looked at loss and obsession, but the screenplay by Juliet Snowden and Stiles White never hits that level hard. The performances by Daren Kagasoff, Douglas Smith, Bianca A. Santos and Ana Coto hardly measures up to Scream levels. The fact that five producers invested into this film may mean none of them will see huge returns. Michael Bay might as well write this movie off even though his influence is hardly felt in this production. At least the characters come through as somewhat likable.
In what is not lingers in the all but brief final act when all the gloves are off. The big reveal tries to explain everything. The ideas are sound, but it goes by too quickly. There’s even aspects of “the golden rules” that are modified from how the board should be properly used if an effective communication is to occur with the right entity — if that’s even possible. As a “mummy” film, it’s at least creepy.
As an accurate portrayal of the game, to which Ouija is not, some details are overlooked. This film is right to have people using the board to ask for a particular spirit to come forth. It’s funny that the word séance is never used.
In normal sittings, the users have to protect themselves by invoking a prayer to ward away any malignant entity. Holy objects work too, but it has to be something that the wearer really believes in for it to act like a ward. Everyone touching the planchette are not allowed to take their fingers off for any reason. If they must, another finger has to take its place. The type of questions asked can be anything, and it’s typically best to ask the spirit to ‘reset.’ That is, to ask it to return to centre. The same rules apply to other methods of spirit communication like table-tipping or glass-moving. Instead of a planchette, a drinking glass placed upside down is just as effective. When it’s unknown what type of entity is summoned, thanking it is simply acting courteous. When the session is over, a closing ceremony should follow to thank the spirits and reveal it’s time to lock the doors.
Unfortunately, nobody taught these teenagers these details. In what they awakened, only the dead can tell and if another movie has to be made, let’s hope the screenwriters will think of telling the back story instead. What happened in the past sounds more scarier!
2 Stars out of 5