DIR: Stiles White • WRI: Stiles White, Juliet Snowden • PRO: Michael Bay, Jason Blum, Andrew Form, Bradley Fuller, Brian Goldner, Bennett Schneir • DOP: David Emmerichs • ED: Ken Blackwell • CAST: Olivia Cooke, Ana Coto, Daren Kagasoff, Bianca A. Santos, Douglas Smith, Vivis, Lin Shaye
Manifesting in cinemas just in time for Hallowe’en, Ouija is a slickly produced but by-the-numbers teen horror opus based on the eponymous novelty item. The plot follows high school student Laine (British actress Olivia Cooke), whose childhood friend Debbie (Shelley Hennig) apparently hangs herself after playing with a “spirit board”. Naturally, a guilt-stricken Laine decides to check in with Debbie’s ghost using the very same board, and she ropes in a group of friends for a séance that puts them in touch with a supernatural force eager to divulge the ghastly history of the house in which Debbie died. If you’re anticipating that this will come to involve the ghost of a spooky little girl, you’re quite right – and you’re way ahead of the protagonists.
Ouija’s most obvious antecedent is The Ring (2002), which also involved a curse spread virally by an object associated with the unavenged murder of a child. However, The Ring enthralled largely on the strength of its exotic imagery and memorable (and relatively mature) heroine, played by Naomi Watts. Ouija’s scares, by contrast, are as standard issue as its cast of interchangeable young victims. Cooke does what she can with the lead role, and has an appealing presence, but she’s hamstrung by a script that requires her character to do nonsensical things like blithely go to a sporting event after her clearly distressed best friend confesses to communing with the dead. None of the victims-in-waiting, including Laine’s mildly rebellious younger sister (Ana Coto) and square-jawed high school sweetheart (Daren Kagasoff, looking every one of his 27 years), makes much of an impression. Vivis (as the Laine’s grandmother) and Lin Shaye (as an asylum patient) are veterans of this kind of thing, having appeared in assorted Paranormal Activity and Insidious instalments, and they deliver their dire warnings and cryptic messages with some degree of relish.
Ouija is handsomely photographed by David Emmerichs, and is overall more attractively mounted than its chief box office rival, the startlingly cheap-looking Annabelle. However, it shares with Annabelle – and with last spring’s overrated haunted mirror opus Oculus – a blocky and inert focal point that singularly fails to exude the necessary menace. Perhaps this is why the Ouija board itself eventually takes a back seat to some boilerplate spectral manifestations, professionally if unsurprisingly rendered by veteran make-up artist Mike Smithson.
Co-produced by Michael Bay, Ouija is a more modest offshoot of the same alliance with toy manufacturer Hasbro that has given the world the deafening and profitable Transformers series. As such, it has the unusual distinction of being an extended toy commercial premised on the suggestion that the toy in question may kill its owners. In that respect alone, the film is unique, and oddly charming. Teenage audiences seeking a few modest jolts around Hallowe’en could probably do worse, but everyone else may find the rote nature of the exercise harder to forgive, despite the efficient packaging. The flesh is willing, but the spirit is bored.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Ouija is released 31st October 2014
Ouija– Official Website