Monday, October 27, 2014


If there’s something to be said for lowered expectations, then Ouija says it with style and chills that were, to me at least, a cheerful, chilling surprise. A PG-13-rated horror effort based on a popular board game with a bad reputation and pitched toward the date night mall crowd, the movie is much better than such a description might indicate. It quickly and effectively disarms resistance by revisiting some very familiar horror themes with seriousness and filmmaking confidence.
The mysterious suicide of a teenage girl in a sort-of old-ish dark house encourages her freshly scrubbed, CW-ready friends to attempt contacting her the Parker Brothers way, spelling out mysterious messages and revealing a horrible family history that insists on reaching back from the grave, all of which, of course, sets them up as potential victims themselves. Ouija happily avoids the opportunity to snark up either the dialogue—these kids aren’t wise-asses constantly one-upping each other or the audience-- or its own relatively patient, often creepily inventive camerawork, which pays off with some delightful chills. (Watch out for the flashlight in the basement whose insistent, intermittent illumination sets the stage for one of the year’s biggest frights.)
And it has a solid center around which to build all the supernatural activity in young Olivia Cooke (Bates Motel, The Signal, The Quiet Ones) as the dead girl’s bestie. Cooke looks like a fetching cross between Rose Byrne and Christina Ricci and transmits strength and fearful regret with a measure of force that will be the envy of every casting director looking to populate other modest horror movies doomed to fall short of the fun this one generates.
Ouija leans more on the craft of building tension than spinning elaborate, ever gorier set pieces, and it’s all the better for it. But the most fun to be had might just be in realizing that Hasbro (which bought Parker Brothers in 1991 and has continued the profitable business of selling Ouija boards since) and writer-director Stiles White have built a happy Halloween contraption around the idea that all those hand-wringing Christian youth group leaders were right all along about the Ouija’s potential as a portal to another, much darker dimension. Were you the one moving that planchette? It wasn’t me! Stop it, you guys! This isn’t funny! Aaaaaaaggggghhhhh!

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