Ouija, a feature-length commercial for Hasbro's board game/spirit-realm telegraph, far surpasses low expectations thanks to its creators' thoughtful execution of hookah-high concepts. First-time director Stiles White's effective use of long takes and director of photography David Emmerichs's wide-angle digital cinematography make an otherwise generic teen ghost story unexpectedly atmospheric.
White and Emmerichs's contributions handily compensate for the Betty Crocker–basic plot. Ouija's supernatural drama hinges precariously on the repeated use of Hasbro's product: a group of high schoolers hold a seance after superstitious friend Debbie (Shelley Hennig) kills herself. Using her Ouija board, they then try to placate the murder-happy spirits that haunted Debbie.
The opening scenes are compromised by stilted, out-of-character expository dialogue delivered by high-strung but otherwise indistinct teenagers. The worst example: when Pete (Douglas Smith), a sickly, Robert Smith–esque cipher, baldly speculates that Debbie's BFF, Laine (Olivia Cooke), sees ghosts because she's subconsciously coping with Debbie's death.
Thankfully, Ouija improves considerably once White and co-writer Juliet Snowden stop laboriously establishing stakes and instead focus on clever plot twists and judiciously deployed jump scares. Spooky set pieces, like the one where Laine explores a hidden room in Debbie's basement, make you want to suspend your disbelief long enough to root for the meat-puppet protagonists. Ouija's ephemeral charms are consequently substantial enough to make Hasbro's turd of an idea look as polished as a new pair of Florsheim dress shoes.