It’s Halloween, and that can only mean one thing: another run-of-the-mill horror film bastardised by the all-engulfing Hollywood machine. For almost a decade, the coveted release date has been taken over by both the Saw and Paranormal Activity sequels. But this year, with the supposed end of the Saw series and Paramount having been unable to find a suitable way to move the muddle narrative of the Paranormal Activity franchise forward (who knew they were even trying?), the date has been snapped up by Universal Pictures for Ouija, an easy contender for the most pointless mainstream horror film to hit the silver screen this century.
To summarise the almost non-existent plot: when Debbie is mysteriously killed after playing with a Ouija board, her grieving friends decide to break into her house and contact her through the ouija board but inadvertently bring something back which murders them one-by-one. The film is truly as conventional as it gets and follows the tiring routine exemplified by countless slasher films which precede it. Worst of all, there is absolutely no mystery presented here whatsoever. The seed is planted by the suggestion that the entity may actually originate from Debbie’s house, but all is resolved in a shockingly insulting ten minute sequence of exposition where literally ever-y-thing is explained to the audience in one go. So there goes any hope of the film providing a half decent story.
The film can’t even get character development right and resorts to using Horror 101 cut-outs. We have the nice one, the rebel, the boyfriend, the dead girl’s boyfriend, oh, and the annoying sibling for that exotic dash of nuclear family drama. Even worse, none of the characters make any rational decisions throughout the film, simply walking from set piece to set piece with zero purpose, they are simply puppets in the film’s undercooked narrative.
A lack of clear narrative and character development wouldn’t seem as bad if Ouija managed to provide a barrage of effective scares, but therein lies its greatest fault – there are none. Sure, you have your conventional jack-in-the-box jump scares which pop up at a frustratingly constant rate of 357 seconds per five minutes, but it’s a numbingly cheap move on behalf of the filmmakers. After all, there is only a certain frequency of decibels our bodies can handle before the physiological reaction is to be startled. It’s an insulting trend within commercial cinema that needs to stop. Worst of all, there is absolutely no build up to these scares. No macabre ambiance or lingering tension which slowly creeps under the skin. The jump scares just come out of nowhere, and not in a fun and unpredictable way either. They just appear, like an unwanted bout of thrush – crucially unnecessary.
Speaking of atmosphere, oh wait there isn’t any. It’s a shame because one thing Ouija does do right is its performances. And all of the cast put in a lot more effort than the script requires, particularly lead Olivia Cooke, who manages to somewhat inject life into her cookie-cutter character and proves that she really does need to find a new agent. Even a brief cameo by veteran Lin Shaye demonstrates her indisputable talent at owning every scene which she appears in.
In the end, well there isn’t much to say about Ouija and it’s rather telling when the most a film achieves is having the title of Hasbro’s first ever horror film. Yes, to make matters worse it’s based on a board game. Had it allowed itself to up the violent content for a much needed boost of viscerality, or even embraced its clichés and ventured into the realm of campy parody, it may have warranted for a far more entertaining watch. However, Ouija just remains dull and unnecessary Halloween fodder, inoffensive in the most offensive way possible.