Halloween Every Day (for a Month)
By Andrew Neil Cole
Day 7: Ouija (2014).
Here’s an unholy filmic trinity: a movie conceived in a boardroom, based on a board game, with a storyline and character arcs that are flat as an ironing board. Ouija represents everything that is wrong with mainstream Hollywood filmmaking today. It’s a lazy, cynical cash-grab utterly bereft of even the slightest hint of artistic integrity or innovation. This is one of those movies—like The Haunted Mansion or Battleship—that was just to bound to happen eventually because everyone—and I mean ever-y-one—has heard of Ouija boards. They’re an established brand, every bit as recognizable as a Campbell’s Soup can or a Nike swoosh, so there’s just got to be a built-in audience just dying to see a Ouija movie, right? … Right? … Anyone?
Right from the start, Ouija bombards us with one obligatory moment after another, ticking off the requisite genre banalities as it goes: Introduction of potential teen victims? Check. Scene (or scenes) in which the absence of all parents and/or legal guardians is made clear? Check. Creepy attic scene? Check. Creepy basement scene? Check. Even the actual Ouija board sequences are done entirely by the numbers—“Come on, guys. Someone’s making it move!” “It’s not funny anymore!”—and it gets old fast. Perhaps what’s most disappointing is the story, or, more to the point, the total lack of a decent story, since the Ouija board actually does have an inherently creepy history. Hell, the Internet is overflowing with truly terrifying tales of Ouija board experiences gone horribly wrong, so there’s just no excuse for a movie like Ouija to be so vanilla, so bland, so ultimately forgettable.
And yet, for all its faults, Ouija isn’t completely without its merits. There are moments where the dark, shadowy cinematography creates a palpable funhouse effect. And the young cast is actually rather likable. In particular, Olivia Cooke, the film’s star/final girl, I believe is destined for bigger and better things. Okay, we do have to put up with yet another annoying angsty teen sibling character, but that’s not the fault of the actress (Ana Coto) playing the role. And it’s always a joy to watch the great Lin Shaye chew the scenery into a soupy pulp. In the end, Ouija is an artistic failure, to be sure, but the blame for this failure needs to be placed at the feet of the big-money producers and studio executives who push movies like this through the development process to make a quick buck and not on the heads of the artists who are just trying to make a living in an industry that clearly favors style over substance.
Adults and more discerning teens will likely find Ouija a tedious affair, but this might be an effective Halloween sleepover film for young, burgeoning horror fans who are more susceptible to the thrill of the jump scare.