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
Follow Jeremy on Twitter - @JeremyKKirk
Does this movie even take place on Earth? Or in the Land Of Models?
Xerxexx on Oct 24, 2014
watch the pact everybody! it's made with almost nothing but creepy as hell!
Avi on Oct 24, 2014
LOL. 3/10. Balls.
DAVIDPD on Oct 25, 2014
I think the BIGGER problem here is that the current climate of cinematic viewership is in in such a transitional phase, and audiences are adjusting to so many new viewing experiences. The fact is, with netflix/amazon prime/hulu etc. etc. etc., access to home viewing experiences is infinitely higher than it was 10 years ago, except that it is much harder for studios to make the sort of money off of netflix than it is ticket sales. And what is the appeal in paying to see a movie in a theatre when I could watch it at home? The answer is the same reason people started seeing movies 100 years ago: spectacle. Movies that people are willing to pay 10 dollars to see and spend the time leaving their house and arranging a get together with friends for are the movies which are a spectacle to see on a big screen, like the latest disposable transformers movie or horror flick. I cant say im not part of the problem here, If i can afford to see two or three movies in theatres a month, Im going to pay to see the big action or horror flicks and save the latest indie drama or clever dark comedy for my laptop, because lets face it, often times I would much rather view some new low budget, moody, avante garde art house film in the privacy of my own bed anyway, even if i had the money for theatres. Im not saying audiences are right or wrong for their current viewing habits, its just the way it is. And studios have to make money somewhere, action flicks usually do the trick, but usually have some of the biggest budgets. Horror films, especially around this time of year, are pretty much a guaranteed profit, and they cost next to nothing to make. Sorry for the soapbox, but I think the actual bigger problem here is not so much that studios are looking for a quick buck, but that studios are looking to make money anyway they can, because audiences just dont pay to see the better quality pieces anymore.
jay on Oct 26, 2014
Sounds as good as it looks.
AwesomeWave on Oct 27, 2014
im sure the Witchboard movies of the 80s were more entertaining than this. Now-a-days I think they give more money to B-Movies so they get more exposure. Not really a good idea.
JohnB on Oct 27, 2014
at least have sex?
Romeo Garcia on Oct 27, 2014
Did anyone need to actually see this to know it wouldn't get a better rating than a three out of ten? PG13 horror shouldn't exist.
Jonathan on Oct 28, 2014
Micheal bay is a bigger hollywood problem.
Y-So Sirius on Feb 5, 2015
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