By Claudia Puig/Gannett News Service
Nothing very spirited happens in “Ouija,” a deadly dull and overly familiar movie about summoning ghosts that draws upon nearly every horror movie cliché.
Even if the Ouija board accessory is shoehorned into the picture, you’ve seen this movie before. Many times. It’s essentially the story of evil spirits emanating from a dead person in a haunted house and terrorizing teenagers.
Laine (Olivia Cooke) and Debbie (Shelley Hennig) are lifelong best friends. Some of their childhood time involved playing with a Ouija board. Whose didn’t?
Flash forward and all signs point to Debbie having killed herself. But Laine refuses to believe it. Besides, she reasons, Debbie played on the Ouija board solo, flouting one of a few cardinal rules for Ouija enthusiasts. (The other two include not playing in a graveyard and always saying “goodbye.”)
Laine convinces her boyfriend Trevor (Daren Kagasoff), sister Sarah (Ana Coto), pal Isabelle (Bianca A. Santos) and Debbie’s boyfriend, Pete (Douglas Smith), to try to summon Debbie’s spirit through the Ouija board she finds in her friend’s bedroom.
Lights suddenly flash on. Or off. Doors open creakily. Or slam shut. A gas stove mysteriously flares on. A chair slides out. Standard stuff. The five teens don’t react much. Neither will the audience.
The rest of the convoluted tale makes little sense but does incorporate more horror-movie staples like a creepy doll in the attic and an old lady (Lin Shaye) who attempts to explain things. Creepily, of course, since she’s in an insane asylum. Apparently Laine has opened a spirit portal. No good can come from that.
“Ouija” is all cheap jolts and no real spookiness. Ghostly images appear occasionally amid excessive exposition. But the movie commits the cardinal sin for horror flicks: It’s not frightening. It’s a tedious and familiar teen drama — friends are grieving, parents are clueless. And the main five characters are, of course, shockingly dim about avoiding scary places or potential danger.
Perhaps the only thing that stands out is a malevolent force’s disturbingly creative use of dental floss. Four out of five dentists would not approve.
But when it comes to that familiar piece of polished wood with the letters and numbers on it, not much is going on.
Anyone who has ever played with a Ouija board knows that the game itself is hardly riveting. Repeated shots of teenage fingers on the planchette moving around the board are stiflingly dull.
A few incantations are boringly intoned. Questions are posed. But much-needed suspense is glaringly absent. Characters don’t seem to react appropriately to what is going on. Laine and Sarah’s grandmother (Vivis Colombetti) suddenly becomes an expert in all things Ouija about two-thirds of the way through the movie.
The story doesn’t even bother to adhere to its own sloppy logic as events grow increasingly monotonous or pointless.
When we first meet Debbie she’s been noodling around with a Ouija board she found while cleaning the attic. Apparently by dusting it off, she awakened the dark powers of this “ancient spirit board.”
Those powers seem entirely focused on these teens, perhaps in punishment for all the stupid things they do, like walking into dark rooms without switching on lights, venturing into musty crawl spaces and creepy basements, and holding séances.
The game is just a tool to make yet another movie about evil spirits and demonic presences.
But didn’t 2012’s “Battleship” decisively prove board games simply don’t make good movies?
Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Stiles White and written by White and Juliet Snowden. Running time: 89 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for disturbing violent content, frightening horror images, and thematic material). Opens Friday at local theaters.