I have several Halloween rituals, one of which is to seek out the seasonal schlock horror film. There is almost always one low-budget groaner released for a quick buck and a putative future in the secondary market of home video. My reasons are two-fold. Sometimes there is a pleasant surprise to be found in the bargain bin, though none comes to mind just now. Usually, though, it’s an exercise in appreciation for those horror films that work. The sterling example of this is Robert Wise’s THE HAUNTING, a moody, atmospheric classic that uses sound effects, superb cinematography, and human psychology to reduce its audience to a quaking puddle.
This year, alas, did not gift me with a surprise. Instead, it was the latter with OUIJA, produced by the fine folks at Hasbro, which has the license to manufacture that copyrighted tool of the occult. It is a pallid, insipid thing that follows the directions of clichéd filmmaking to the letter. We have a group of attractive teenagers with little or no adult supervision making unwise choices in the wake of the tragedy that befalls one of them. It’s a tragedy involving holiday lights, which makes it more festive than more tragedies, but the interest and innovation end there.
The leader of the plucky teens is Laine (Olivia Cooke), who does not take tragedy in stride. No, the stomps right up to it and demands some answer via the eponymous board game. She also systematically breaks all the rules set forth in the flick’s preamble, viz. to wit., she plays alone, she forgets to say goodbye, and she plays in a graveyard. Fair is fair, she wasn’t aware of that last part until it was too late.
The house where the tragedy occurred is, of course, infested with spirits who are anything but at peace. Perhaps part of the reason for thaty is the execrable excuses for art that the residing family has littered throughout. There are other reasons, and because we are trapped in the doldrums of lazy writing, part of the revelations require a trip to the local psychiatric hospital accompanied by suitably derivative eerie music. Suitable for the way everything else found here is so derivative.
Teens drop like flies, but the important thing is that Laine and her younger, lightly Goth sister, Sarah (Ana Koto) begin to bond. The other important lesson is that Isabelle (Blanca Santos), the first teen to balk at touching before succumbing to peer pressure is the first to drop in the course of the investigation. There’s a message for the kids out there, but, like the blowback from flossing that happens to everyone who does so, one hopes said message isn’t muddled.
OUIJA hopes to be a franchise. Don’t they all? One is tempted to think that this premise has nowhere to go but up, but, further alas, one has learned that there is always a new low to be found in cinema. After seeing this mess, I went home and rewatched THE HAUNTING. I recommend that you do the same, but skip seeing OUIJA first.