A spate of big-screen adaptations of board games and toys — from “Battleship” and “G.I. Joe” to “The LEGO Movie” and the “Transformers” series — has rekindled a connection to the playthings of our youth. “Ouija” is the latest to conduct this séance with the nostalgic spirit of our childhoods. (Jumping out of the box and into the Cineplex next are “Monopoly,” “Candy Land,” and “Risk.”)
The supernatural thriller is based on the game that every American kid since 1890 has used to contact spirits around the dining room table — or, at least, to punk his or her friends. In “Ouija,” two BFFs, Laine (Olivia Cooke of TV’s “Bates Motel”) and Debbie (Shelley Hennig), are shown using the “talking board” as girls. Now they’re teenagers, and Debbie has broken one of the game’s cardinal rules: Don’t speak to the dead by yourself. When she meets a bad end, Laine and her circle — including boyfriend Trevor (Daren Kagasoff), little sister Sarah Morris (Ana Coto), pal
Isabelle (Bianca Santos), and Debbie’s ex, Pete (Douglas Smith) — try to connect with their late friend using the game’s heart-shaped planchette. Led by Cooke’s doe-eyed sincerity, the gang soon confronts something more formidable than the wrath of a moody teen, and moves into Scooby-Doo mode to solve the paranormal mystery they’ve unleashed, including visiting creepy Lin Shaye (“Insidious”) in the loony bin. Parents are conspicuously absent.
Director Stiles White’s teen-friendly debut delivers plenty of cheap giddy shrieks, without the R-rated gore you’d expect from the all-star production team behind the “Paranormal Activity” and “Insidious” series and the “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Friday the 13th” remakes. The cast of young television stars from shows like “Teen Wolf” and “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” should also speak to the film’s target audience, who are probably as familiar with Ouija as they are with Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots and Pet Rocks. Sadly, the teens commit one rookie horror movie mistake after another. They enter the haunted house at night. They split up into the attic and basement. They forget to test their flashlights.
“Laine, we’re only trying to help you,” a high school counselor says, offering our heroine a pamphlet about bereavement as her pals drop dead one by one. Too bad grown-ups aren’t around more. Their combined horror film-watching expertise would definitely come in handy in “Ouija.”
Ethan Gilsdorf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.