The idea of playing with an Ouija board never seems to end well. People are accused of cheating or someone actually thinks they have made contact, and the board becomes a frightening vessel instead of a silly board game. Director Stiles White’s Ouija attempts to dive into this mystery and show whether or not the board really is something to fear.
Debbie (Shelley Hennig) seems to have a thing for Ouija boards, but when she is found dead in her home the apparent victim of suicide her best friend Laine (Olivia Cooke) becomes obsessed with figuring out what really happened. When Laine finds the tattered, old Ouija board in Debbie’s room, she decides to gather their friends to play the game in Debbie’s newly-vacant house to see if they can contact Debbie for answers and hopefully closure.
However the moment the group begins playing the game, things start to unravel and it becomes clear that while they are definitely getting in contact with someone, it may not be their friend. After their initial game, each member of the group starts seeing the same ominous message that was spelled out on the board, and Ouija quickly becomes a race to figure what they have unearthed before their entire group is killed off in not-so grisly fashion.
There are three rules you must follow when playing Ouija: 1) Never play alone, 2) never play in a graveyard, and 3) always say goodbye. Of course the moment these rules are stated, you know they are going to be broken. But the problem with even setting up this conceit is it creates an environment where you are waiting to cross obvious mistakes off a list instead of anticipating the next scare.
Ouija does deliver some decent jump scares, but only a few truly work to surprise with the remainder becoming a bit too easy to predict. Each of Debbie’s friends start getting picked off one by one, but their climactic kill scenes leave something to be desired. Unlike the inventive kills featured in the Final Destination series, Ouija keeps returning to the same idea, which does work to reinforce the evil at the heart of the narrative, but it also makes each new kill more expected than shocking.
The real problem is everything is a bit too easy in Ouija. Wonder where Debbie found this old Ouija board? We have the video footage! Want to find out who lived in the house before? An entire box of family photos are still up in the attic! Looking for first-hand recollections about said family? Check out the local asylum! Of course it is expected to suspend a good amount of disbelief when watching a horror film, but these near short cuts to keep the plot ever moving forward become a problem when they start going against character.
One of Debbie and Laine’s friends, Isabelle (Bianca A. Santos), is so terrified after receiving the haunting message from the game she refuses to leave her house. But when Laine needs the group to get together at Debbie’s (obviously haunted) house for another round, Isabelle is there without hesitation. A large funeral is held after Debbie’s death (with family and friends), but as each of Debbie’s friends start getting killed off, we never see their parents again and no additional funerals are ever held. This inconsistency in order to better serve the plot ends up making the supporting cast feel more like numbers on a kill list than characters whose survival you want to root for.
The one highlight in Ouija is the dedicated performance Cooke delivers as the haunted and determined Laine. Thanks to Cooke’s almost doll-like eyes, she is able to express a myriad of emotions that help give every scene she is in a real sense of importance. Although a bit overused, Cooke does well in her solo scenes as she reflects on her friendship with Debbie by watching old videos or looking back at old photos and it works to make you believe their friendship was strong enough to drive Laine to stop at nothing to figure out what happened to her friend.
Ouija succeeds in delivering some decent scares and a solid leading lady, but the plot moves along a bit too fluidly and fails in building any real tension or fear among the group.
The Upside: Harmless fun; a few notable jump scares; a strong lead performance from Cooke
The Downside: Unimaginative and repetitive kills; scares become a bit too predictable; supporting cast underused; easy plot points are favored over character development
On the Side: In 1994, Stephen Young was convicted of murder in London, but he was given a retrial after it was found out that the jury used a Ouija board to contact the victim… who allegedly named Young as his killer. However, Young was once again convicted after the retrial and given a life sentence.