Review: Bland, Horrible 'Ouija' is Part of a Bigger Hollywood Problem
by Jeremy Kirk
October 24, 2014
There's an odd correlation between cineplex screens and toy-store shelves these days. The movies-being-turned-into-toys-being-turned-into-movies cycle is hardly a 2014 revelation. But, with Michael Bay's most recent Transformers movie scraping the well in search for content, it finally felt like that synergistic cycle was a foregone conclusion. Entertainment and, God forbid, story were afterthoughts to the dollars and cents the film ultimately pulled in. I use Transformers as the example, because Bay's horror-movie production company, Platinum Dunes, has a product in which they'd like you to invest. It's called Ouija, and it's awful.
Saying it's "awful" is even putting it to mildly and strikes at the movie itself when it's really just part of a bigger problem. Put bluntly, Ouija is a manifestation of just about everything wrong with the way a lot of movies are made these days. Movies aren't even made nowadays. In 2014 properties are purchased and branded for the consumer, enough properties and enough content to fill thousands and thousands of cineplexes featuring dozens of screens. It doesn't matter if the end product is any good. Who cares if the content within is substantial beyond the bare minimum to ensure the product can be referred to as "finished." As long as it's out there, making money, and feeding the powers behind those screens and those toy-store shelves, it's a winner.
Yes, that's a lot of preamble to this review of Ouija, and I'm definitely getting there. It's just seeing something as lazily thrown together and laughably presented as fodder for the masses brings up an ire in filmgoers who look for art in their theaters. There's a healthy balance between art and industry that can be met somewhere in the middle. If you don't believe that statement, see what Phil Lord and Chris Miller - and, yes, Warner Brothers - pulled off with The Lego Movie earlier this year. I'm pretty sure Legos are going to outsell Ouija boards during Christmas this year. Again.
Obviously horror movies and art-in-film are not mutually exclusive. There are thousands of examples in the genre that deliver both genuine scares and have a deeper meaning behind all the fright-letting. Again, here's where a movie like Ouija stumbles over itself in both areas. It clearly has no ulterior message it's trying to get across other than, maybe, don't play with a damn Ouija board ever no matter what you do. That'll get the Hasbro board game flying off the shelves.
If you really want to talk about story, though, it goes the same as it ever did. A group of teens find a Ouija board. They communicate through it with a sinister ghost. The ghost begins tormenting them. The teens continue to communicate through the Ouija board - yeah, I don't know why, either - with this ghost until it's powerful enough to do some real harm. The rest is just forward horror-genre momentum from there with a bloodless, PG-13 death count that might as well not even occur. A few of the character here just disappear.
Ouija doesn't deliver on the thrills, though, and that's the ultimate problem. It has the jump-scare moments; hands slapping against windows, shrouded entities screaming and flying at the camera, a door or 15 slamming shut. It's everything we've already seen in every ghost movie of the last 40 years choreographed with the precise, bland timing horror movies have been working with going back even further. Forget atmosphere. Forget any notion of suspense. The execution of the "horror" that Ouija is going for draws the line at making loud noises and having shit fly at the audience.
If Ouija exists for any noteworthy reason it's for Olivia Cooke's performance as the lead here, a young girl who has just lost a childhood friend and goes to extreme lengths for a chance to say goodbye. Cooke doesn't necessarily heighten the film she's in, but the quieter moments of Ouija are certainly not reaching boredom when she's involved. She doesn't transcend the film, either, but that can be blamed on her lack of anything substantial to do. She's a solid actress in a forgetful horror movie, and she gives it her best.
Lin Shaye, whose presence seems to have become a prerequisite for supernatural horror in 2014, delivers the wacky goods for the few scenes in which she appears. Unfortunately the fact that she is in this movie is one more portion on the pile of laziness that makes up Ouija. The moment she shows up the film seems to be screaming about the lack of effort it's giving us, but that doesn't stop you from wanting to watch her perform.
The rest of Ouija, however, may do just that. Ponderous beyond the most banal output Hollywood-driven horror can put out, it's the kind of movie that ends up keeping you from hating it, because, at some, certain point while watching it, you've moved on from hating the product to hating the machine that continues to dump this cinematic nothingness into your local theaters. Ouija isn't the most flagrant example of assembly-line filmmaking out there, not even recently, and Bay, whatever his direct involvement was with the film beyond agreeing to his Producer credit, isn't even the primary culprit when all is said and done. It's a much grander-scale issue that remains the target for cinema-lover's anger, and sometimes it takes a movie as unacceptable as Ouija to get that anger going.
Jeremy's Rating: 3 out of 10
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