What is it about toys and board games that make such great antagonists in horror films? Is it that these inanimate objects are designed for fun and enjoyment, but really have deep connections to the foulest of evils? Whatever the reasons are, Hasbro hasn’t found them in Ouija, a painfully dull attempt to turn their supposedly-supernatural party game into a low budget scarer. On the surface it seems like a sound idea; a lot of people have had some frighteningly good fun with Ouija boards over the years, and they’re probably better off inviting friends over to play it than sitting through a film this tired and rote.
By comparison, Ouija makes Hasbro’s last attempt to adapt a board game look like pure genius. That would be last year’s noisy and stupid Battleship, which you could never snooze through no matter how sleepy Brooklyn Decker’s line delivery got. Drifting off into slumberland is pretty easy during Ouija, though, which conjures up zero scares and never deviates from a bland playbook. The film begins with best friends Debbie and Laine happily playing with their Ouija board as kids, only to be interrupted in their fun by the arrival of one’s sister. But it was enough for the girls to make a connection with something terrible, and years later as the girls are grown up, its presence has only gotten stronger. They may think it’s “only a game”, but clearly something disagrees.
When teenaged Debbie (Shelley Hennig) dies under mysterious circumstances, and is revealed to have been something of a Ouija addict, her best friend Laine (Olivia Cooke) gathers a few friends to communicate with Debbie…through the board, of course. Along with her ill-tempered sister Sarah (Ana Coto), Debbie’s boyfriend Pete (Douglas Smith), Laine’s boyfriend Trevor (Daren Kagasoff) and close friend Isabel (Bianca Santos), they reach out to Debbie but end up contacting something far worse. Predictably, people start dying and it’s up to them to figure out why.
There’s a pretty good chance for Ouija to offer up some Final Destination-style dark comedy, the path a film like this absolutely should have taken, but instead what we get is a deadly serious and frightfully dull bore. You won’t be surprised by anything screenwriting and directing duo Stiles White and Juliet Snowden come up with as they basically rip off every horror you saw a decade ago. Spooky dead kids, a scorned mother, and deep family secrets literally buried in the attic are what’s in store. Nothing to see here, folks. Although the film is shot well enough it never stops looking like something that should be airing on the CW, not on the big screen. There’s never a sense of terror; never a sense that anybody is in real danger, and nothing the filmmakers tries to do changes that. Part of the problem is the wooden performances by much of the cast, with only Cooke capable of holding our attention for more than a few minutes. She’s genuinely great on the hit Psycho spinoff, Bates Motel, and maybe her familiarity with the genre is why she stands out from her co-stars.
Most importantly, it’s hard to figure out what Hasbro gets out of a movie like this. Unlike Transformers, GI Joe, or Battleship which were clearly designed to sell toys, who’s going to run to their local Wal-Mart and pick up a Ouija board? Certainly they won’t based on this utterly forgettable movie.