Feature-length toy commercials may not get much more crass than Ouija: "You can buy one of these at your local toy store", one character literally snorts at one point, and that's after the infomercial-like exchange during which two other characters speculate about how nice it would be if there were some sort of... anything... that let you communicate with the dead people you've known... some sort of easily obtainable board, perhaps. But points for burying that advertisement underneath a hilariously self-negating film whose overriding surface-level message is much closer to "If you don't use our product exactly the way we tell you to, you will die. And even if you do use it exactly the way we tell you to, you'll kill a solid 60% of your friends in the process". Truth in advertising!

That kind of giddy idiot writing is very much the thing that keeps Ouija surprisingly entertaining for a very long stretch of its 89 minutes, though the entertainment is never intentional. Or hell, maybe it is. If you are special effects artist-turned-first-time-director Stiles White (co-writing with Juliet Snowden; they last teamed up to script the absurd Jewish exorcism movie The Possession), and you are stuck making a motion pictured based on a Hasbro board game so non-specific in its application that a non-branded variant of it shows up in three or four haunted house movies every year, maybe you do just throw your hands up and start making fun of yourself. At least that would go some way towards explaining why Ouija is maybe the funniest bad horror movie of this year, and the last couple of years as well; maybe it's just the accumulated rank incompetence. I vigorously approve of it either way.

It's barbarically clichéd in every regard: there's this girl, see, Debbie (Shelley Hennig), who has been acting all weird, and nobody can tell why, not even her best friend Laine (Olivia Cooke). Still, it's a shock when she kills herself by hanging herself from the chandelier in her parents' foyer with a string of bright white Christmas lights. A shock to everybody but us, that is: we saw her playing with a Ouija™ game - the characters are fucking fanatical about calling it a "game", which makes sense from a corporate standpoint, but reflects the casual usage of no human being in existence - and we saw her playing it alone, in strict defiance of the rules. And that is how she called up the angry spirit that made her go all hollow inside and then kill herself as the punchline to a shot set-up that holds so long on the "her body is totally about to drop from the top of the frame" tension that you could wander out of the theater to have a nice dinner and come back before it finally plays out.

Laine is horribly distressed, more than anybody else, and after a couple of days of moping - days during which her father leaves on business, while Debbie's parents leave her the keys to their house while they decompress for a few weeks, leaving the film conveniently devoid of authority figures besides Laine's mystic old Hispanic grandma (Vivis Colombetti), which I am extrapolating from the way she's always referred to as "nona", and not because Laine or her dad (Matthew Settle) appear to have an ounce of Latino blood between them. But by Christ, we could not have a movie like this without a mystical ethnic.

So anyway, Laine strong-arms her boyfriend Trevor (Daren Kagasoff), hers and Debbie's other best friend Isabelle (Bianca Santos), Debbie's boyfriend Pete (Douglas Smith), and most reluctantly of all, her own little sister Sarah (Ana Coto), into having a séance in Debbie's house, using the very same Ouija™ board. Naturally enough, they kick up an evil spirit; naturally enough, it takes them an inordinately long time to figure this out, despite the spirit's overtly menacing behavior and refusal to actually identify itself as Debbie. Many deaths happen, while nobody figures out what the hell is going on, and Laine, who had earlier blamed herself for Debbie's "suicide", because she went to a party without her friend, seems totally unruffled by the actual deaths that she actually is at fault for.

It's as thunderously predictable in every moment and as an overarching plot as any PG-13 horror movie could ever daydream about being; anyone who has even heard of, let alone seen Insidious: Chapter 2 ought to be able to get pretty far ahead of the movie without hardly any issue, and that's even without the cameo by that film's Lin Shaye, as the Lin Shaye Character (kind of - there's actually a bit of misdirection around her, but the reason for the casting is obvious enough). And White telegraphs each and every scare with enough chance to brace yourself and cover your eyes and have a scream cued up that only the most generous and giving viewer could actually manage to be frightened by it.

But Ouija is not meant to be a good movie: it is meant to lever money away from bored teenagers, and if along the way it manages to be so idiotic and half-formed as to be laugh-out-loud hilarious, so much the better. Much of this is because of the dialogue, which includes some delectably impossible words that nobody would ever speak - like when reference is made to ordering pancakes "with the works", which may be some regionalism, but only served to conjure up for me the appealing image of pancakes topped with onions, relish, and tomatoes. Or when Douglas Smith enunciates the word "article" with what sounds for all the world like an additional "c". Or when the characters stop their conversations dead to have lengthy readings from the Ouija™ rulebook, which everyone in this universe appears to have committed to memory.

Much more is simply from how laughably ill-made Ouija is: the tense setpiece staged in a tunnel so dark that we can actually see quite clearly down its entire length, even though the characters cannot; the ripped-from-J-horror ghost designs. Even the fucking production design is laughable: Debbie and Laine's rooms are both covered in magazine ads and posters that suggest less that the art crew was aware of what these "hu-man teen-agers" did with their private spaces, and more that the art crew was sozzled on wine and grabbed a bunch of fliers from community theater Shakespeare productions.

It is, basically, a wonderfully bad movie, filled with lapses in story logic and erratic characters written like ciphers and played like aliens. I do not recommend seeing it in theaters: I almost popped from trying to hold in all the obnoxious remarks I wanted to make to the friend I saw it with. But oh, Lord, when the DVD comes out, the beer-and-pizza parties this outrageous piece of shit is going to fuel...

2/10