I really wish that somewhere in DEAR WHITE PEOPLE's cinematic manifesto on the current state of race and race relations in America there was a code of conduct for white characters in horror movies, because boy do they all act stupid. This is not a new problem, any more than black characters tending to get killed off first is a constant (not an issue in OUIJA, where there isn't a black face in sight). I guess the thinking is that if the white folks getting tormented by otherworldly, supernatural beings simply walked out of the house at the first weird sound or sign of trouble, there wouldn't be a movie. But in OUIJA, the high schoolers tempting ghostly fate might as well build a billboard begging the spirits to fuck with them like the idiots they are. White people. Am I right?
OUIJA establishes early on that Laine and Debbie have been friends since they were little girls, and they've been playing with a Ouija board (copyright by Hasbro, just like Transformers and Battleship) just as long. One of the rules of playing the game that is supposed to help you contact and communicate with the dead is that you aren't supposed to play alone, but for some reason, the now-grown Debbie (Shelley Henning) has done just that, stirring up something nasty that causes (or forces) her to commit suicide. Laine (Olivia Cooke) doesn't understand why Debbie has done this, and recruits a handful of mutual friends to investigate using the board, because what else would you do? I guess her diary was unavailable.
OUIJA contains the expected number of scares (the bare minimum, if you ask me)—some actually connected to terrifying happenings, but mostly just because one of the other friends pops out from behind a door unexpectedly. There's something of a mystery involved in the history of the house that Debbie and her family lived in that may provide clues to this haunting, and thankfully the always-reliable Lin Shaye arrives as a woman who lived in the house as a girl and lays out the entire backstory in one scene, maybe too conveniently.
But OUIJA's greatest sins arise out of a horribly lazy screenplay from Juliet Snowden and first-time director Stiles White (who also wrote KNOWING and THE POSSESSION). The group of friends (which includes the utterly interchangeable/forgettable Ana Coto, Bianca Santos, Daren Kagasoff and Douglas Smith) will see something utterly horrifying in one moment, and then act like either nothing happened or they forget that it did, and move on with poking at killer ghosts.
With a combined list of producers that includes Jason Blum and the Platinum Dunes collective of Michael Bay, Andrew Form and Bradley Fuller, you might expect something a little more thought out. But OUIJA feels like a rough idea (not unlike the sketch of a film ANNABELLE did a couple weeks ago) that was never actually brought to life in the hands of its director or writers. There is exactly one slightly unexpected twist toward the end of the film, but that hardly makes up for every character being an underwritten cliché. I'll give Olivia Cooke some amount of credit for breathing an iota of life into Laine; she's an actor who will have a career beyond genre work (THE SIGNAL, THE QUIET ONES, "Bates Motel"); I get no such vibe from the rest of the cast.
If all you require of a horror film these days is for it to make you scream a half-dozen times in 90 minutes, you'll be satisfied with OUIJA. If you actually like characters that act like real human beings and scares that are earned through an understanding of atmosphere, lighting, tension, character development and acting, hold tight; I hear that THE CONJURING 2 is coming out in 2016.