Monday, October 27, 2014

It Came From The Cineplex: Ouija

Ouija was written by Juliet Snowden and Stiles White, and was directed by Stiles White.

Snowden previously wrote The Possession and the Nicholas Cage vehicle Knowing, which should tell you everything you need to know about this film. White has primarily worked as a special effects technician. This is his first turn as a director.

This film is yet another in Hasbro's "Let's Turn Our Toys And Games Into Movies" series, the previous examples being Transformers, G.I. Joe and Battleship.

This film was originally green lit by Universal and was intended to be a big budget, effects-heavy board game-based family film, ala Jumangi. Michael Bay of all people was one of the producers of this early version of the film, so no doubt the Ouija board exploded in every scene.

This souped-up version of the movie was all set to film when the big budget, effects-heavy board game-based Battleship premiered and sputtered, caught fire and plummeted to Earth, leaving a fiery, expensive and critically panned crater in its wake.

Universal then dumped the project, and Ouija was then retooled into the low budget, PG-rated horror version we see here.

As crazy as it may seem, this is not the first movie based on the Ouija board. There was a 2003 film from Spain titled Ouija.

As well as one from the Philippines in 2007. The 2014 version seems largely based on this one.

There was also a Witchboard trilogy (because the story was just too big and complex to be told in one film) that was also centered around a haunted Ouija board.

In this day and age when Jittery Soccer Moms can get Breaking Bad action figures banned from toy shelves, I'm honestly surprised that it's still possible to buy a Ouija board in a store. You know, what with devilish and supernatural subject matter.

The film's not the least bit scary, but it has a plot with a twist or two and makes more sense than most ghost stories, as long as you don't think about it too hard. It's definitely not great, but it's probably as good a movie that's based on a board game as you could expect.


The Plot:
The film opens with a flashback, showing giggly young girls Debbie Galardi and Laine Morris innocently messing around with a Ouija board. This is where we learn the rules of the game: Never play it in a graveyard (does that really need to be said?), always say goodbye to your spirit subject and never, ever play alone. And never feed the board after midnight or get it wet. Wait, that's not right.

Years later, Debbie's now in high school (I think) and one night while home alone, she just can't keep her hands off her Ouija board and plays the game alone. She's then immediately possessed by a malevolent spirit that causes her to hang herself.

After the funeral, Laine is puzzled by Debbie's suicide and laments that she never got to say goodbye to her. She cooks up a brilliant plan– she'll contact her through the medium of the Ouija board! She somehow talks her sister, her boyfriend, Debbie's boyfriend and a redshirt female friend into joining her, and they use the board to contact Debbie in her home.

Amazingly they get through on the first ring, as "Debbie" uses the board to spell out "HI FRIEND." Unfortunately over the next few days the various friends all see the message appear as they go about their business, which quite rightly unsettles them. One of them is even killed by the increasingly evil spirit.

Laine snoops through the Galardi's attic and discovers a box of photos. She learns that years ago, the house was occupied by a mother and two daughters. A quick bit of Googling reveals that the Mother killed young Doris Zander in her home (after sewing her lips shut). The older daughter Paulina then killed Mother in retaliation. It just so happens that Paulina, now an old woman, is still alive and living in the local mental institution.

Laine visits Paulina, who tells her that the ghost of Mother is haunting them, and the only way to destroy her is to find Doris' body, which is hidden in a secret room in the Galardi's basement, and cut the stitches from her lips. Laine thinks this is a perfectly rational suggestion, and does just that.

Laine finds Doris' desiccated body in the secret basement room and cuts the stitches from her mouth. Her body then raises up and screams at the ghostly Mother, destroying her.

But wait! Both Laine and Debbie's boyfriends are killed shortly afterward. Laine discovers that Doris was actually the evil spirit, and her Mother sewed up her mouth to protect the world. Now the only way to stop Doris' evil spirit is to burn her dried up little body in the furnace, along with the Ouija board, which is just what happens.  

Annnnnd then in the final scene the Ouija board reappears. Wakka wakka!

• When Debbie is possessed by the evil spirit (after stupidly playing the Ouija board by herself) she grabs a string of Xmas lights decorating her bulletin board, drags them to the staircase and hangs herself with them.

Those lights must have really been plugged into the outlet securely, because they're not yanked out of the wall as they support her full, jolting weight.

OK, so I suppose she might have looped or tied them around something first, but still. 

• This is the second film I've seen this month that's used the "oven burner that comes on by itself" trope in a desperate attempt to generate scares (the first occurring in Annabelle). Apparently self-lighting stoves are the new "flying cats" when it comes to movie scares.

• The small piece that's moved about the Ouija board is called a "planchette." Everyone in the movie seems to automatically know this term, which I find unlikely. How many people have ever heard the word "planchette" before in their lives?

• After Debbie dies, her distraught family leaves town "indefinitely" and asks Laine to watch over their home. Well that was certainly a lucky break for the plot! Having the Galardis conveniently out of the picture gives Laine unlimited access to their house. 

She takes full advantage of it too, holding numerous Ouija seances, traipsing around in the attic and even knocking a hole in a hopefully non-load bearing wall in the basement and burning desiccated corpses in the furnace!

• During the first seance in the Galardi home, the power mysteriously goes out. I guess neither Laine or any of the other characters thought this outage was worth reporting to the power company, because the electricity's off for the rest of the film. Hope the Galardis didn't have anything perishable in the fridge!

Or course the real reason the power went out is because the movie's barely scary as is, and would have been even less so if they were walking around with all the tasteful track lighting on.

• The script seems to indicate that the various spirits are bound to the Galardi home. So how is it that after the first seance, all the participants see the "HI FRIEND" message miles away from the house and the Ouija board? One of them is even killed in her own bathroom! How's that possible? Are the spirits stuck in the house or not?

• Isabelle, one of Laine's friends, is seen flossing her teeth before bed. She peers into the mirror and suddenly her lips are sewn shut as she levitates off the floor. Her head is then smashed violently on the sink, killing her instantly. 

That settles it! I'm never flossing again!

• The always great and dependable Lin Shaye (who's starred in many horror films over the years) makes a welcome appearance in the film.

Unfortunately she's only in two all-too-brief scenes. Even then, she's relegated to Obi-Wan in Return Of The Jedi status as she infodumps several pages of exposition to Laine, 

She spells out the entire plot and how to resolve it in easy to understand English for the dimmer members of the audience.

• Many experts agree that our collective attention spans are getting shorter every year. Nowhere is that phenomenon more evident than in this film. Debbie, the film's first fatality, is mourned for several days. Later on Isabelle is killed and her death is given a minute or two of attention before it's forgotten forever. Near the end Trevor and Pete are both murdered by the ghost, and their deaths barely even register to the surviving characters. 

• The ghosts in this film seem awfully easy to "kill." When Laine first cuts the stitches from Doris' mouth, she spews a jet of black smoke or energy or something out of her gaping maw, right at her Mother's ominous spirit. Mother vanishes in a little poof, leaving a faint outline of her form on the wall behind. The same thing happens at the end when Doris' spirit is eliminated by the ghost of Debbie.

This was a vengeful, powerful apparition that just killed four people. You'd think it would take more than simply belching on it to destroy if forever.

 • A noticed a couple of things in the end credits I've never seen before:

Danny Giles – Second second assistant director. I'm assuming that's an attempt at humor, right? Or did it sound less convoluted than "assistant to the second assistant director." Still and all, it was no doubt an impressive position on the film.

John Fearn - Honeywagon driver. Apparently there was a lot of sh*t that needed hauled away from this film. So much so that it warranted a film credit!

Ouija is yet another of Hollywood's attempts at turning a board game into a film that isn't the slightest bit scary. I give it a B-.

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