“OUIJA” — ★1/2 — Olivia Cooke, Ana Coto, Daren Kagasoff, Lin Shaye, Bianca A. Santos, Shelley Hennig; PG-13 (disturbing violent content, frightening horror images, and thematic material); in general release
Whenever a movie introduces rules, you know they are going to be broken. The Ghostbusters were always going to cross the streams, and Billy was always going to pour water on poor Gizmo.
Horror movies are the worst at this kind of transparent behavior, and most of the time you have to suspend a generous degree of belief as you watch characters make their way up the creaking staircases in scary old houses or creep down into darkened basements against all semblance of reason.
Reason is nowhere to be found in “Ouija,” a film that pounds out an array of horror clichés that is bigger than Neil Peart’s drum kit. If it weren’t for a handful of effective jump scares and the infamous reputation of its subject matter, this film would be a completely forgettable mess.
We kick things off with Debbie (Shelley Hennig), a teenage girl who hangs herself after playing with an old Ouija board alone. That’s one of the rules: Never play alone. The others are to never play in a graveyard and to always say “good bye” when you finish communicating with the dead. Apparently the dead are easily offended.
Debbie’s best friend, Laine (Olivia Cooke), is massively distraught by the suicide, and decides to cope with her anguish by gathering a group of friends at the scene of the tragedy to try and contact her.
Anyone want to guess what they’re going to use to do the job?
The cannon fodder — er, group of friends — includes Laine’s boyfriend Trevor (Daren Kagasoff), Debbie’s boyfriend Pete (Douglas Smith), another random girl named Isabelle (Bianca A. Santos) and Laine’s sister Sarah (Ana Coto), who is dating a mysterious older man who drives something out of the “Fast and Furious” movies.
We never meet the older man, and he’s completely irrelevant to the plot. But he does represent the only attempt at character development in the entire film.
Team Laine’s Ouija experiment goes about how you would imagine: Spirits are unleashed, scary things happen, and one by one, the members of the teenage posse are targeted. But instead of bottling the narrative inside the house or contain it within the course of a single evening, “Ouija” spreads its story over several days, which basically requires its characters to keep coming back to the same scary house over and over and over.
Strangely, one of “Ouija’s” biggest sins is that it’s just boring. After Debbie’s suicide, nothing really happens for the next 45 minutes. In a film that runs out just shy of an hour and a half, that’s not a good thing.
If it weren’t for a reasonable third-act twist, “Ouija” would compete for the title of laziest horror film of all time. But even the twist is foiled by a late turn of events that gets laughs for all the wrong reasons.
The culprits are all there: stiff acting; badly written, overly expository dialogue; loud music and jump scares used to cover the lack of real tension; and a cast of characters who just keep on doing dumb things. With some movies, you have to turn off your brain to have a good time. “Ouija” would prefer that you ship it out of state.
“Ouija” is rated PG-13 for disturbing violent content, frightening horror images, and thematic material; running time: 89 minutes.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. More of his work is at woundedmosquito.com.