Monday, October 27, 2014

Ouija: A Fatal Fable of Foolish Friends

Ouija: Banner | A Constantly Racing Mind

As a kid, my parents told me never to play with an Ouija board. You can buy one down at a toy store or on line at Amazon for about $20. Hasbro makes and sells this "game" for ages 8 to adult. Now Michael Bay, Jason Blum and Hasbro have teamed up once again to give audiences a cheap thrill by promoting a favorite child's toy as a film as they did with "Battleship." Olivia Cooke ("The Signal," "The Quiet Ones," "Bates Motel") stars as the best friend of an apparent suicide victim who just can't leave well enough alone. Director and co-writer Stiles White whose horror credits include writing, along with his wife Juliet Snowden, “The Boogie man," "Knowing," and "The Possession," work to tell a PG-13 story that appeal to the teen - aged moviegoer. The film starts out with two young girls of about seven or eight, in their pajamas playing with a cheap Ouija board and a plastic planchette. But first, the young blonde girl (Claire Beale) must tell the brunette girl the "rules" of the game. The first rule is, "never play alone," "never play in a graveyard," and finally, "always say goodbye." 

About ten years later, the two girls are seniors in high - school looking forward to college. Debbie, the blonde, now played by Shelly Henning ("The Secret Circle," "Teen Wolf") is alone in the typical old creepy multi - storied house -- with a past. The now grown brunette, Laine (Cooke), comes by to invite her recently and strangely reclusive best friend to go to a school game with her. The melancholy Debbie says she's not in the mood, but will see Laine tomorrow. After a few jump scares, the familiar low rumble of impending doom, Debbie inexplicably hangs herself off the second story balcony. With a dead friend now as a motivation, Laine gathers her boyfriend, Trevor (Darren Kagasoff), Debbie's boyfriend Pete (Douglas Smith), and Isabel (Blanca A. Santos), to hold a séance in the old house. In the hopes fo finding answers to Debbie's sudden and unforeseen suicide. Conveniently, because of the trauma of their daughter’s death, Debbie’s parents leave town to mourn. Laine's father, coincidentally, also leaves town for business putting Laine in charge of her younger but wild sister Sara (Ana Coto) who she brings along to the séance.


Ouija: Seance| A Constantly Racing Mind

Stiles and Snowden walk the audience through every paranormal horror trope in the book: a house with a past, found footage, jump scares, and stupid kids summoning up the dead to a less than satisfying end. The best part of "Ouija" is Lin Shaye from "Insidious," "Insidious: Chapter 2," and more recently the indie Sci-Fi flick "The Signal" which also starred Olivia Cooke as well, as an insane survivor of a cruel spiritualist. The first problem I have with "Ouija" is the PG-13 rating. I don't think that a decent horror film should ever tone down the blood, gore, or tension, to keep from getting the audience limiting R rating. Secondly, White fails in trying to build character, primal fear, or hair raising tension, that develop a story and reworks the typical and tired horror tropes than just replay them. Finally, I am still having a problem getting used older actors playing much younger roles. Olivia Cooke is 20 years old (which I'm cool with) while the other members of the cast range from 24 (Isabella), to 27 (Trevor) and 29 (Pete). Other than Olivia, I had a hard time buying into these kids are in high - school. 

The idea that the living can contact and speak to the dead has been around since civilization started burying their dead. The emotional toll the loss of a loved one takes on the human psyche is beyond stating. Since ancient China, the use of a planchette as a way divining what the dead have to say. These planchettes were more of a way of holding a writing instrument that would aid the living write out the dead’s words. In the early 19th century, spiritualism was in vogue and séances featuring automatic writing with the use of a planchette. As the 19th century drew to a close, lawyer and inventor Elijah Bond had the idea of selling the planchette with a board that had the words “yes,” “no,” ‘goodbye,” the English alphabet, and the numerals 0 through 9. Some boards are elaborately adorned with mystical symbols to further the mythology of the ritual. Science believes that for the most part that it is just the persons involved subconscious moving the planchette. Either way, Ouija boards figure prominently in paranormal horror films. Perhaps the most famous and cinematically the most important film that features the Ouija board as portal to the dead and demonic is the “The Exorcist.” An unwitting Regan (Linda Blair) opens herself up to possession by the demon “Pazuzu.”


Ouija: Olivia Cooke| A Constantly Racing Mind
As the story progressed, I was reminded of the many  paranormal horror films that I've seen before, but without that emotional high. As the telltale inscription, "hi friend,” began showing up in the film, I had a bad sense of Deja vu. I was hoping that the filmmakers would do more to unravel the mystery of the mysterious spirit board itself, rather than remake the familiar ghost/slasher film that wallows in mediocrity. Olivia Cooke does a decent job and does her best to hold up a weak script. The special effects seemed rushed or in some cases hokey. A few of the important death scenes are either rushed, or only alluded to. At best, I would classify “Ouija” as slightly entertaining but like eating a salad for dinner, you’re still hungry and unsatisfied. Watch "Ouija" at the theater at your own risk, or you can do one of several things. You could wait until the powers that be release the film on DVD, which is my vote, or you can go out, get your own witch board, and scare up some of your own real frights.


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Movie Data

Genre: Horror
Year:  2014
Staring: Olivia Cooke, Ana Coto, Daren Kagasoff, Bianca A. Santos, Douglas Smith, Lin Shaye
Director: Stiles White
Producer(s): Michael Bay, Jason Blum, Andrew Form, Bradley Fuller, Brian Goldner, Bennett Schneir
Writer: Stiles White, Juliet Snowden
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 89 minutes
Release Date: 10/24/2014