Halloween special: Ouija movie taps into childhood terrors | Arts

Halloween special: Ouija movie taps into childhood terrors


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When I was growing up, my mother warned me against toying around with the board game Ouija. Modeled after the infamous “talking boards” used for interviewing the dead in the late-19th century, the game was first produced by Parker Brothers before Hasbro picked it up in its present-day form. It seems that my mother had her own terrifying experience calling ghosts through the plastic planchette as a child. She was deep in a friend’s basement communing with an unknown presence when a door mysteriously opened and slammed itself shut, sending her and the friend running screaming into the refuge of the warm afternoon sun.

Years later, I couldn’t help but think that the beginning of the new movie Ouija (directed and written by Stiles While with Julie Snowden) offers the same eerie, bone-chilling atmosphere that my mother’s story imparted to me as a child. Two young girls, Laine (Olivia Cooke) and Debbie (Shelley Hennig), play with the spirit board on sleepovers, asking harmless questions about secret loves and future plans.

As they grow older, the childish game is tossed aside for more pressing matters like boyfriends and college applications, until Debbie discovers an antique board in her attic. This time, she doesn’t wait on her friend to begin the séance, a risk that ultimately turns ugly. Similar to Insidious or The Ring, certain rules must be followed when crossing the liminal line between the spirit and physical world.

The breach of contract between the living and the dead moves the plot forward. Debbie’s solo communication with the afterlife results in her untimely death. Bestie Laine, overcome with grief, hopes to reconnect one last time, and persuades her friend—perfectly coifed and styled for a CW melodrama—to turn to the Ouija board for answers. It comes as no surprise to the audience that this is a foolhardy move, culminating in a series of Final Destination-style death sequences for each friend who dared to place a finger on the board.

Ouija starts off with a captivating sense of earnestness, but precious little effort or good dialogue is devoted to extending the reach of the film beyond pure shock value. The scares are basic at best, volleying between “bump in” surprises from characters just out of the camera view and a specter that enjoys harassing the lovely teens when they floss their teeth. The film makes a nice little ending for itself, tying up Debbie’s story, the antique Ouija board and the creepy old Victorian home in a larger morality tale of mother-daughter retribution. But that’s not enough to push the limp dialogue and recycled narrative toward a higher plane of interest.

Out just in time for Halloween, Ouija should offer just enough atmospheric and frightful fun to please some viewers. But for those looking for something with a few more fright-worthy sequences, I recommend demon-doll thriller Annabelle.

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