With Olivia Cooke, Ana Coto, Daren Kagasoff, Bianca Santos, Douglas Smith. Written by Juliet Snowden, Stiles White. Directed by Stiles White. Rated PG-13 for disturbing violent content, frightening horror images, and thematic material. 89 minutes.
The horror genre seems to be in the midst of a cycle of “haunted house” movies. OUIJA tries to put a fresh spin on it by linking it to the game that has treated as both a harmless toy and a link to the spirit world. You can guess which tack this film takes.
The film’s prologue provides us with the rules for the movie “Ouija,” if not for the real-life board: one should never use it alone; one should never use it in a graveyard; one should always say good-bye. Having established this we then come to a surprising teen death which sets the story in motion.
Laine (Olivia Cooke) is bereaved at the loss of her best friend. When she discovers that her late BFF had been playing with a Ouija board, she and several other teens attempt to contact her. The scares come from the unexpected rather than from horrific gore. Early on it is the director (special effects man Stiles White making his directing debut) giving us the cinematic equivalent of saying, “Boo!” A character walks into a room and turns on the light. Surprise! There’s someone already there. It turns out to be a friend and not a monster, but the audience jumps just the same. Later, the surprises are violent and supernatural, although staying clear of R-rated entrails.
The young cast–Ana Coto as Laine’s sister, Daren Kagasoff as her boyfriend, Douglas Smith as her late friend’s boyfriend, and Bianca Santos rounding out the group–are playing teenage types. Coto is the misbehaving punk to Cooke’s “good” girl, but she’s really not all that bad, and Smith pouts moodily as the grieving boyfriend who can’t believe his girlfriend took her own life. If there are no great performances here, neither are there any bad ones. They’re as engaging as they need to be.
Cooke is the one who actually has to carry the film, whether it’s dealing with her friends, or a crazy old lady (Lin Shaye in a scene-stealing cameo) who may hold the secret for what’s going on. It may be premature to predict the future career of this 21-year-old actress from England, but she’s clearly someone to watch, especially if she gets a chance at a more substantial role.
Meanwhile, as a horror film goes, this breaks no new ground, but it bumps along at a steady pace, providing the requisite scares and laughs along the way. We also learn that the thing moved around the board is called a “planchette” and apparently if you look through the viewer you may not like what you see. It comes to a satisfying ending and then manages to leave the door open for “Ouija 2.” Will there be a sequel? You’ll have to consult your Ouija board to find out, but don’t do it alone.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.