#ThrowbackThursday – Ouija

Original US release date: October 24, 2014
Production budget: $5,000,000
Worldwide gross: $103,590,271

Once again, I leave #ThrowbackThursday up to the randomizer and, once again, it chooses a horror film.  But it works out seeing as how the follow-up (and prequel, it appears) Ouija: Origin of Evil is set to be released, this October.  That’s a completely different project with an all-new group of filmmakers both in front of and behind the camera, but it will still be fun to take a look back at this one.

I have known multiple people to have personal experiences with Ouija boards.  Reliable people.  Once, I was at a party.  Most everyone else was drinking (I don’t drink, but I don’t care if other people do) and then they decided to pull out the Ouija board.  I quickly deduced that this was a bad combination and I hightailed it out of there and headed straight home.

I also believe that I’ve personally seen a ghost (a story for another time and place) so ghost-based horror films always intrigue me.  I enjoy seeing other people’s ideas and interpretations of that realm of the supernatural.  Ouija boards have been used to various effects in other films, but this was an attempt to make it the centerpiece of the story.  It felt like Ouija was a long time coming.

Ouija was also Olivia Cooke’s highest profile film role to that point (though she also starred in The Quiet Ones – another horror film – at around he same time) after making a splash in A&E’s excellent Bates Motel series.  She’s fantastic, so it’s great to know that she was cast by Steven Spielberg to be the co-lead in his upcoming adaptation of Ready Player One.  That will be huge for her and should put her firmly on the Hollywood map.

Ouija, itself, is a bit of an enigma.  Technically, it’s based on a “game” but I’m not so quick to casually reduce the Ouija board to that dismissive of a categorization.  Many people do, however.  Just ask Hasbro, who’s been selling them in toy stores for years.  So, even though the characters in the film (led by Cooke’s Laine Morris) bring the events upon themselves, it’s hard to label that as unrealistic since so many people do it every year in real life.

Once things get into gear, we have a mixed bag.  Initially, the characters aren’t quite as quick on the take as they probably should be that things are not as they seem, but they get a little smarter as the film goes on.  Something else happens, as the film continues, however.  I noticed that it was all feeling a little familiar.  It didn’t take all that long for me to realize that the story was hitting virtually all the same notes that – surprise, surprise – The Ring hit, twelve years before it.  I’m starting to notice just how many filmmakers apparently look up to that movie as much as I do, because with it being fresh in my mind again after my recent re-watch, I’m noticing its influence all over the place.  It was certainly there in Lights Out, but Ouija is just a couple of steps away from being a remake, once you get past the differences on the surface.

That’s not to say that it’s as effective or immersive as The Ring was.  Not even close.  But the same basic story beats are there: a loved one dies under mysterious circumstances, the female protagonist investigates and makes the same mistake that said loved one did along the way, she then proceeds to unravel the mystery to save herself and everyone around her, and then she’s hit in the face by a twist – the same twist – once she thinks she has it all figured out and taken care of.  It’s really quite remarkable.

Having said all of that, there are still some pretty good jump scares and creepy visuals throughout the film and the atmosphere is well-maintained throughout its duration.  The film looks nice, as well, with a clean, crisp, colorful presentation giving way to a moody, darker appearance when the time is right.  And Olivia Cooke shows why Spielberg took an interest in her as she effortlessly strolls through her role, coming off just as natural and believable as one could ask for – even crying on demand.  This film was a good showcase for her and she’s clearly taken advantage of it.  I hope she has a long, successful career and that Ready Player One is as fantastic as it is likely to be and makes money hand over fist.

What this all comes down to is that Ouija is essentially a lazy, but mostly-competent film.  It borrows way too much from what I consider to be the greatest horror film ever made to be considered overtly fresh, but it does some fairly effective things with those borrowed elements.  And Olivia Cooke shines.  If you devour horror movies (or are following Cooke’s burgeoning career) , you’ll probably find Ouija worth a look.  If you’re typically picky about your horror, skip it and just watch The Ring.  With Ouija: Origin of Evil on the horizon at the end of October, hopefully a completely new filmmaking team will mean we gets something a little more outside-the-box.  Or, we may just get a clone of The Conjuring.  We’ll find out in a few months.

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