The Ouija Experiment

There are apparently three important rules that you should follow if you’re communicating with a spirit using a Ouija (pronounced wee-gee) board:

  1. Don’t ask the spirit how it died, because it will likely upset the spirit.
  2. Don’t ask the spirit how you’re going to die, because it will likely upset you.
  3. Don’t walk away from the Ouija board without saying goodbye, because it’s a portal to the spirit world and leaving it open could allow the spirits to enter our world.

Any guesses as to which of these rules was broken (repeatedly) in The Ouija Experiment?

We begin with Brandon, a film student with his camera on and recording, in a car with classmate Shay on their way to meet Shay’s boyfriend Calvin, Calvin’s sister La’nette, and Calvin’s best friend Michael. Michael is interested in using a Ouija board to interact with the dead, but he’s less interested in having it filmed because he’s not sure whether the spirits will be camera shy. But of course Brandon leaves the camera rolling, and he captures what appears to be a conversation with a young girl named Gracie and later her 35-year-old mother Lisa. They soon learn that Gracie died by drowning (because it’s apparently OK to ask one spirit how another died, even when asking a mother about her child), and that both are afraid of another spirit who goes by the name of Joseph.

Their first Ouija experience having been a success, they decide to repeat the process. As before, they contact Gracie and Lisa, but when the questions start to become more personal (e.g., whether Calvin is cheating on Shay and with whom), arguments arise and in the confusion the board is left open. Shortly after that, they begin having unusual, and frightening, experiences.

According to the filmmakers, the “experiment” of The Ouija Experiment was in the challenge of creating a credible film on a micro-budget (about $1000), with only a rough outline and heavy improvisation, and using self-distribution and social media to try to create buzz (like the despicable practice of Twitter spamming). Although they have undeniably had a measure of success because they did make the film and I did see it in the theater, there were also numerous failures. It’s not a very good movie, there are certainly cases in which you can tell that it needed a better script, and the only way I knew anything about it was that it showed up on the Drafthouse calendar.

In many ways, The Ouija Experiment is very similar to Paranormal Activity. It relies on the found footage gimmick and people filming every aspect of their lives (including at one point, recording themselves watching footage they had previously recorded, although in The Ouija Experiment with a significant inconsistency in this regard), but there is one key scene which isn’t found footage and isn’t from the perspective of anyone in the story. Our first experience with spirits in the real world comes first through minor things like pictures knocked over or upside down, then by hearing noises and seeing things move, and finally we see the spirits themselves. It really does very little to distinguish itself from Paranormal Activity, or from other films of that ilk, and it has a lot of problems that can’t be overlooked.

Director Israel Luna mentioned that this film was essentially a remake of a film called Is Anybody There? he had made about ten years earlier. Had the film been released then when the idea was still relatively new, and had it not unnecessarily relied on the extremely over-used found footage gimmick, then perhaps it would have been better received. But it isn’t well suited to the current market, where a tiny budget doesn’t excuse an unremarkable film.