I must confess up front that I seldom get much enjoyment out of horror movies. I decided to watch Ouija on a whim and my opinion hasn’t changed. Teenagers find and play with a Ouija board, evil spirits get involved, hapless teens suffer the consequences—riveting, huh?
Don’t let this overly glamorous synopsis fool you. To be fair, there’s nothing wrong with the basic idea behind Ouija: who can argue that it’s unwise to spend time with a Ouija board? It’s a pretty simple plot premise, and that doesn’t need to be a problem, especially when a film simply aspires to make easy cash selling disposable scares during the Halloween season. I get that director Stiles White wasn’t trying to make a memorable film, though I do have to assume he was at least trying to hold our attention and frighten us a bit. But the most frightening thing about this film is the damage done to the actors stuck hopelessly portraying the script’s bland protagonists.
Ouija spreads too little substance over its ninety-minute runtime, filled as it is with entire scenes of almost dead air. After a Ouija board induces one character to commit suicide in the opening sequence, the following scenes drag on without any further excitement, merely setting up an environment that feels contrived even by the standards of your typical horror flick. Ten minutes, twenty minutes, thirty minutes, and FINALLY the teens sit down to play with the Ouija board for a second time. Yet in all that time we learn surprisingly little about the characters with whom we are expected to empathize. They spend most of their time grieving for their suicidal friend, about whom we also know practically nothing. Ouija struggles in part because we wind up in a scarcely believable world with people who lack convincing humanity and give us few reasons to care about them.
Once the scares finally start, it’s like cruising down an empty street, only to hit every red light along the way. The lulls aren’t as agonizing here as the film’s opening scenes but are probably more harmful for a horror film that needs to ratchet up the fear factor to really make us uncomfortable. Though overly reliant on jump scares, several individual moments effectively create some tension as the teens try to understand and confront the antagonistic spirits. But even these relatively unsettling moments tend to be broken up by sequences of lame dialogue or mundane activity. The film’s end works only slightly better and requires us to overlook some particularly gimmicky plot devices. For most viewers, fear would likely be an overreaction.
I don’t really anticipate a smart plot and compelling characters from a horror film, but at the very least I expect it to dish out some fear or revulsion. Ouija has a couple moments that reveal potential (after all, communicating with the dead is always creepy), but this potential is not realized whatsoever. Any movie that has difficulty justifying its existence or convincing us it’s worth our time is the real horror. If your choice at the theater is Ouija or nothing, I recommend telling your own ghost stories at home.
Boring, not scary. Don’t bother with it.