Published Oct 24, 2014Anyone interested in the paranormal knows that the Ouija board has always signified more than just a children's game. At the beginning of the 20th century Sir Arthur Conan Doyle employed it and other methods to access the spirit realm; the poet James Merrill used the Ouija board to write his Pulitzer Prize-winning The Changing Light at Sandover; heads of state, the founder of Alcoholic's Anonymous and Alice Cooper, that favourite emissary of darkness, have all dabbled with the spirit board to varying effects.
The age of spiritualism is long behind us. If it comes up at all in modern society, outside of formulaic genre films, bad reality shows and a few niche publications, it's to be mocked by the "I Fucking Love Science" crowd, who are contemptuous of every dogma but their own. But history is a boneyard of scientific ideas. And occult, by precise definition, means hidden, so that no matter how popular Neil deGrasse Tyson might become, and how snidely he dismisses superstition, movies like this continue to attract audiences because the unknown will always be more interesting, and, ironically, more alive, than a mechanistic worldview.
One could be cynical and note Hasbro's greedy paws all over the effort, but after the hilariously crass Battleship it's hard to feel anything but relief — at least the producers brought in Ouija historian Robert Murch to guarantee verisimilitude. One neat detail is that you aren't supposed to throw away a Ouija board. You have to burn them. And allegedly, they have been known to scream.
Not much plot description is necessary, given that most people have seen a teen-centric horror film. An attractive young girl messes with the Ouija board and ends up killed. Her even more attractive group of friends search for answers by turning to a Magic 8-Ball. Kidding — they break out the titular board, and that planchette thing starts moving on its own. This is a movie called Ouija.
Insipid teen banter is kept to a minimum, leaving the gloomy atmosphere to percolate, which is fortunate because the technical aspects outshine the lacklustre writing and acting. Certain scenes feature sound and cinematography that wouldn't be out of place in an Oscar-contending prestige picture.
The target demo of teenagers who take dates to scary movies and don't already own Ouija boards will be satisfied. Older audiences, perhaps nostalgic for their own Ouija days, or looking for something in the vein of The Conjuring, might find it a little too juvenile.