Blu-ray Review: Ouija (2014)

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I feel bad for the cast of Ouija, the fall 2014 horror release now available on Blu-ray Combo Pack from Universal. No matter how talented any of them may be as actors (and, having seen his work in The Secret Life of the American Teenager, I already know that Daren Kagasoff is quite good), viewers are bound to come away from Ouija thinking that everyone sucked. But it’s not the acting that’s the problem. Co-writers Stiles White and Juliet Snowden (the former also directed) probably couldn’t have crafted a duller bore if they tried. Ouija strains to make the Hasbro board game scary but, aside from a few jolt-worthy moments (assuming you’re easily susceptible to being jolted) almost nothing of interest occurs during the 89-minute runtime.

Ouija 3 (380x157).jpgBut then again, what do I know. Ouija wasn’t exactly a runaway hit, but it grossed just shy of $100 million worldwide on a $5 million budget. The market for PG-13 horror product seems insatiable. The “plot” barely warrants a mention. An unnecessary prologue introduces us to childhood friends Debbie (Claire Beale), Laine (Afra Sophia Tully) and Laine’s younger sister Sarah (Izzie Galanti). Flash-forward ten years or so, Debbie (now Shelley Hennig) hangs herself. We don’t yet know exactly why, but the Ouija board she tries to burn in the fireplace provides a good clue.

The rest of the movie involves Laine (now Olivia Cooke), her boyfriend Trevor (Kagasoff), and their friends attempting to use an Ouija board to channel the demons that drove Debbie to suicide. Among the film’s many problems is the fact that we don’t get to know Debbie at all before her demise. Maybe we would’ve cared more about Laine’s quest to find out the supernatural truth if we got to see how close she and Debbie were before the game took over.
Ouija 2 (380x158).jpgThe rules of what Ouija players can and can’t see, in terms of spirits haunting Debbie’s home are concerned, aren’t carefully laid out. The effect of glimpsing spirits only through the Ouija planchette provides a few bits of striking imagery. But soon enough, Laine and company (including Ana Coto as the older Sarah) are physically interacting with the demonic Mrs. Zander (Claudia Katz), the mother-from-hell who haunts the Ouija board.

Let’s cut to the chase, the best thing about the new Blu-ray release is the DTS-HD 5.1 surround mix. As is often the case even with very modestly budgeted horror releases, the sound design is all-important. There are plenty of creepy audio effects emanating from the surround channels. The subwoofer thumps and throbs appropriately whenever the mood becomes tense. David Emmerichs’ dark, subdued cinematography is nicely showcased here by a flawless transfer.

Ouija 1 (380x214).jpgIn a surprising move, Universal has chosen to skimp on bonus materials. No deleted scenes, no director’s commentary, no gag reel. There two Blu-ray exclusives. Both are short, EPK featurettes: “The Spirit Board: An Evolution” and “Icon of the Unknown.” There’s one additional standard featurette, “Adapting the Fear.” Each of these puff pieces runs less than five minutes. The Blu-ray Combo pack comes with a standard DVD and a digital copy.

Unless you happen to be a particular fan of one or more of these cast members (again, Daren Kagasoff was great on The Secret Life, Shelley Hennig was a two-time Emmy nominee during a five-year run on Days of Our Lives), skip Ouija.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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