Don’t Ouija Alone: Witchboard Teaches Us About Trust and Friendship
I’m going to be real here for a second: Witchboard was not a good movie. Usually I’m all over B-horror movies. But I think we can safely categorize this one as a solid D-horror movie. That is, if we’re going by American public school grading systems.
Firstly, I don’t know why it was called Witchboard. There’s not a single witch in the entire film. Instead, it featured an evil spirit called Malfeitor, the benevolent spirit of a ten-year-old boy named David, and the trio Jim, Linda, and Brandon. Jim and Brandon grew up together, Brandon and Linda used to date, Jim and Linda currently date, and Brandon and Jim had a falling-out when Jim and Linda started dating. That’s the tea.
The film begins at a party at Jim and Linda’s apartment, introducing us to our characters with a truly heinous conversation about the existence of God. It seems like the writers were trying to seem deep and philosophical, but it comes off as cheesy, like they’re talking about something they don’t really understand in an attempt to sound smart. If that was the case, and they did that on purpose, it should happen more than once. But it didn’t, so I think that’s just bad writing. Later, Brandon brings out his Ouija board, explaining the word “ouija” comes from the French and German words for yes, which sounds fake but apparently is not. [Ed. note: Or maybe it is?]
The Witchboard Fights Back
Through a series of unfortunate events, Linda starts using the Ouija board by herself. She thinks she’s talking to David, the spirit of the boy she and Brandon contacted at the party; it turns out she’s been talking to the evil spirit of a serial killer who used to live in her apartment. Terrible things start happening around her, ending with her being possessed by the spirit and trying to kill Jim. The reason that Jim is targeted by this evil spirit isn’t really explained; chalk that up to lackluster writing. Like, there’s a weird police lieutenant that just hangs around and hints that he suspects Jim is responsible for the murders of his friends? And he’s obsessed with magicians? It seems like he serves no other purpose than to be weird and show up at the last minute to provide the gun for Jim to shoot the Ouija board with.
Trust and Friendship
Witchboard is an exploration of trust and how easy it is to exploit. By spirits, and by regular people in your life. Although it’s not an upstanding example of horror cinema, it does have its merits: Jim is a surprisingly multi-faceted character, hiding secret fears and desires. He wants to love Linda, but he doesn’t know if he’s capable. Honestly, he needs to see a therapist; he goes on a road trip with his former best friend instead. He and Brandon have a rocky relationship, but they work through it slowly and realistically. Brandon seems like your typical rich boy, but he has this weird fascination with spirits and the occult, seems open and accepting of the strange and unusual that you don’t really get with your typical rich boys. Linda is just Linda, there to motivate the male characters, but she seems fun and she’s got good hair so I’ll give her a pass for being kind of a flat character.
Horror in the Daytime
I’m going to go out on a limb here, but Witchboard accidentally pioneered the Midsommar-style of daylight horror; there’s no jumpscares, no peering around corners in the darkness, and there’s barely any scenes at night to begin with. Everything happens in broad daylight. Maybe that’s the reason it’s not scary, maybe it’s the bad writing, maybe it’s just that ’80s brand of low-budget horror that makes this movie a little bit milquetoast. Was Witchboard an inspiration for Midsommar? I highly, highly doubt it. But you have to admit, there’s something about a horror movie in broad daylight that’s just a smidge unsettling. As if these are everyday occurrences that could happen to anyone, at any time. At any moment a slab of sheetrock could fall and crush your friend. A spirit could untie a rack of barrels and drown your other friend. You never know.
I stand by my analysis that Witchboard was not good, but I wouldn’t call it a waste of time. It’s a movie about trust: broken trust, innocent trust, and rebuilding trust. It stays true to this core theme, but it has little payoff. There are some things that are presented in ways that don’t promote speculation or inference. There’s little to no critical thinking involved. Things are either explained away or not explained at all. I like to think a little with my films, I like themes and symbolism, I like imagery; there was little to none of that in Witchboard. It was a plain horror movie, everything in its place, following a pattern, and that’s okay. Sometimes we just need a palate-cleanser of a movie after all the blood and gore of modern slashers and thrillers. Witchboard gave me that, and I appreciate it.