You have to at least give Ouija’s filmmakers credit for doing what seemed practically impossible. They made a horror movie that somehow has even less narrative propulsion than the board game upon which it’s based—a game that involves players slowly spelling out messages from the other side, letter by painstaking letter. Here is the plot in its entirety: Teens play Ouija, bad things like death happen to them. While the Ouija game itself depends largely on the amount of psychological investment its players make in it, or at least how much fun can be derived from mass-market signposts of the occult, Ouija is so basic at every conceivable level that you want to hand the production team an instruction manual.
For nonbelievers, the true kick of the party game comes from trying to figure out who’s actually in the driver’s seat, which prankster is sliding that plastic cursor around on the waxed board. At that level, Ouija vaguely resembles its source material, because every cinematic trick, every sullen detail, every feigned plot point seems channeled in from a different, invariably superior film while the flat, two-dimensional Ouija itself passively accepts them all. At one point, the main teen’s frumpy grandmother even explains that the board itself isn’t responsible for her otherworldly misery, but is just a humble conduit between the vengeful spirits and their living victims—which, if you think about it, makes it the perfect emblem for this anonymous effort. (Even the fact that the girl’s grandma is incongruously Hispanic has been lifted from a legacy of predecessors using ethnicity to tip off deep-cut knowledge of the dark arts.)
Lacking even the sophistication of a second-rate episode of HBO’s Tales from the Crypt (or, hell, even the “best” segment of Creepshow 3), Ouija consistently settles for the cheapest shock devices and the most shopworn totems of our current neo-gothic moment in the genre. And as anyone who’s played the game could tell you, you’re never surprised by what it says, though primed audiences will still jump in their seats once or twice as though they’ve never seen a horror movie before in their lives. By the time Lin Shaye, now the indubitable queen of watered-down, PG-13 horror, turns down for what as a crazy old lady who may just hold the secret to stopping the bloodless carnage, even stimuli-response-seeking addicts will feel like moving the planchette to “Good bye.”