We open to a prologue set in Switzerland, in which a clearly panicked man is seen running down a lonely track by day, eventually stopping to bury a mysterious box under foliage.
Then, as the film begins proper, we're in England. India (Lois Wilkinson) is a young single mother who's starting over after splitting up with her drug-dealing boyfriend Paul (Nicholas Kendrick). She and her infant daughter Emily (India Raqia-Walker) move into a new home, aided by India's mother Karen (Lesley Scoble) and family friend Laurie (Roger Shepherd).
Before long, India has unearthed a Ouija board clumsily concealed in the earth of her new back garden. No-one seems to know quite what it is. And, I'll be honest, I missed how it got from Switzerland to England.
India and her friend Rebecca (Gabriella Calderone) play the game, asking the board a random question. Weird things start happening soon after. Unexplained noises in the night, car lights flickering by themselves, that kind of thing. Emily gets locked in the bathroom while a boiling hot bath is on the go, resulting in her getting severely scalded. Rebecca has an "accident" on India's stairs and eventually winds up dying from her injuries. India's pet dog goes missing, only for her to open the front door a few days later and have its severed head thrown at her through the door.
It's at this point that the local police are called in - led by DI Hodges (Michelle Jennings). They suspect a mischievous schoolboy who lives opposite may be responsible for these shenanigans. Really???
India is a little more sensible and tries to flog the Ouija board to a local antique dealer but he sees little worth in it, despite identifying the thing as being of Eastern European origin from the nineteenth century. He dismisses it as "mumbo jumbo stuff" but in the next breath warns India not to toy around with it. Too late! It's at this point that Paul appears from nowhere in the antiques store, telling India he's a reformed character with a job. This is enough to persuade her to go for a coffee with him.
While sat in a local cafe resolving their differences over a brew, Paul - who touched the Ouija board earlier - guzzles his freshly boiled coffee without reaction, spews it back in India's face and breaks out in demonic legions. He goes crazy and flees the cafe.
The next we hear of Paul; his body has been discovered several days later in a local canal. With his history in mind, the police assume the above cafe episode was the result of him being on drugs ...
India, however, is convinced there's more to Paul's death than drugs. Even more so when yet another unexplained mishap occurs, this time in her back garden.
Most of OUIJAGIEST's action occurs during the daytime, employing natural lighting. I like that, it bucks convention and the results in this instance are attractive.
Aided by the adept editing of Laura Straker and Matthew Hickinbottom's welcome cinematography, this is clearly a low budget affair but wisely plays to its strengths and doesn't attempt to outreach itself in terms of special effects or elaborate action; OUIJAGIEST is far more character and situation focused.
It also benefits from a good, earthy script. It's all extremely British, with mentions of Tesco, women turning to a glass of gin when stressed out, people wanting Chocolate Digestives with their cups of tea and so on. I appreciated these little touches, it resonates.
Things do admittedly get a little silly and generic at times, but this is generally grounded enough to pass. I also enjoyed the inclusion of a film-savvy priest during latter scenes (the closest thing this film has to comic relief), which allowed for name-checks for THE USUAL SUSPECTS, THE EXORCIST and POLTERGEIST (and even its sequel).
The cast are largely good too, refraining from the sensational and keeping things just on the right side of plausible for the most part.
I was reminded of another British horror film, XTRO, in a way. What with this being a British domestic drama fused with horror, the retro-tastic electronic score, a scene concerning paranormal phenomena with a child's playing blocks etc, and Paul returning after a significant absence in his child's life, only to quickly behave abnormally ...
Elsewhere, there were also vibes of Ulli Lommel's THE BOOGEY MAN. Especially during a scene involving an ill-fated window cleaner (Nathan Head), his contact with the Ouija board and a possessed water hose ...
There is also some strange and effective sound design to be savoured along the way like low whispers and grunting or snorting. Liam W Ashcroft's synth score is, as mentioned above, very retro and enjoyable but a little jarringly prominent whenever it appears.
OUIJAGIEST works best when it's quietly foreboding, which in fairness accounts for ninety percent of its running time. The attempts at outright scares are admirable, and done rather creatively considering the limited resources, but these are the least effective moments in the film.
I must make mention, too, of the many enjoyable references to other films. I've already covered some of these above. As well as those already mentioned, we get visual nods towards WITCHBOARD, PHENOMENA, CONTAMINATION, EVIL DEAD 2: DEAD BY DAWN and even JUMANJI.
Alas, OUIJAGIEST is a painful title which has "dumb comedy" written all over it. The DVD cover art as above is sinfully misleading too. Ignore both; this is a meditative and rather inspired indie horror with seriousness at heart. And it works.
Directed by John R Walker (THE AMITYVILLE PLAYHOUSE), OUIJAGIEST was co-written by Darrell Buxton and Steve Hardy. All three should be commended on a piece of work that very quietly gets under the skin. It doesn't break new ground, but what it does it does effectively considering its limited means and I had a good time with it.
We were sent an online screener link for review purposes. I viewed the 77 minutes 38 seconds-long uncut version, presented in its original widescreen ratio, which is nicely framed. Picture quality was colourful, sharp, bright and natural. The English 2.0 audio on offer was equally nice and clear throughout.
OUIJAGIEST is available to stream digitally on Amazon Prime now, and has also been put out on DVD in America from Wild Eye Releasing.
I liked it.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Wild Eye Releasing|