Sometimes producers have a great idea; sometimes that idea doesn’t really work.
Alone at home, Debbie (Shelley Hennig) finds an old Ouija game, a talking board that lets a group of friends communicate with spirits. There are rules, of course, such as never play alone — Debbie’s body is found soon after. Laine (Olivia Cooke) had been friends with Debbie since childhood… even using the Ouija board when they were kids. When circumstance leave Laine to house-sit in Debbie’s home following the funeral, Laine discovers the old wooden Ouija board and invites over four friends to a séance; she can’t shake the feeling that Debbie’s spirit is still there. When the board spells out “Hi friend,” the group freaks out and leaves… just before mysterious deaths begin to follow after everyone involved.
In 1891, the Kennard Novelty Company capitalized on the Fuld Talking Board, dubbing it a “Ouija” board and taking advantage of the centuries-old European spiritualism that had arrived in America in 1848. Rather than use the séance tradition of calling out letters and listening for knocks, the talking board had a full alphabet, ten basic numbers with yes, no, and goodbye inscribed upon a varnished wooden board. A planchette was touched by all participants to channel spirits from the beyond and guide the pointer quickly to answer questions. While even holding a US patent that never truly explains how the board works, the new question is will audiences flock to see a movie built around their assumptions and pour money into current-owner Hasbro’s demonic pockets?
The film does a good job playing up the worst assumptions and nearness to the occult the talking board generates, complete with a step-by-step guide on playing the game and what failure to follow the rules might do. Unfortunately, the story starts to break down as the assumptions and rules start going off the rails, especially when stepping over the established rules of the spiritualism. Example: haunting spirits tend not to translocate; they haunt the places they are linked to (died, murdered, etc) or possibly objects to which they are connected; only a possessing spirit can move with the host and then tends not to attack that host. The movie suggests that everyone who used the device incorrectly are somehow “marked for death” with little explanation as to how or why. While the atmosphere works and the ending pulls something clever out from under a cliché horror plot, the end effect suggest something better could have been done with the source material.
This isn’t the first film or franchise to use the idea of a spirit board: the Witchboard franchise series started in 1986 and spawned at least two sequels. The idea here was clearly to sell copies of the current Hasbro game: a printed paper board with a plastic planchette to give teens the heebie-jeebies, but a few tweaks could have made this film and story work far better; not ripping off the twist to The Ring would have been a good start. Another suggestion would have been to utilize actress Shelley Hennig to better effect, but she was probably giving the bulk of her time she had shooting episodes of MTV’s “Teen Wolf.” Even the added idea that the planchette’s window could be used as a viewing port into “the other side” was an interesting addition (cribbed from the legends of looking between the ears of a dog to see the invisible entities they bark at), but it just wasn’t enough to marry it all together.
Let’s note here that director Stiles White not only co-wrote the screenplay but was also responsible for Nic Cage’s Knowing. Perhaps the Ouija board itself has the best idea: N-A-H. Goodbye!
Ouija is rated PG-13 for disturbing violent content, frightening horror images, thematic material, and being hanged with Christmas lights.
A two skull recommendation out of four
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