There’s a theory in film criticism that the scariest monsters are the ones that work unseen, that the best monsters scare by staying hidden almost entirely. This idea is probably what fuels the sub genre of what I like to call Possessed Object Horror. Essentially, an object, like a comb, a doll, or in this case a mirror, is somehow evil (part of the rules is that there is no explanation) and wants to cause as much damage as possible. These films are becoming increasingly popular, with various degrees of success. So when WWE Studios came out with their version, starring Karen Gillan no less, I clearly had to see it.
Let’s take a look at Mike Flanagan’s major motion picture debut, Oculus.
The film follows Kaylie and Tim Russell, siblings whose lives have been destroyed by an evil mirror. Why is the mirror evil? Because like all things in the movie world, it just is and stop asking questions you’ll ruin the mood. The film presents their first encounter with the mirror, when they are children, and when they try to destroy it as adults, after Tim is released from a mental hospital as intertwined. All we know is that the mirror is responsible for the death of their mother and turning their father into a monster. The two swear to destroy it so it never hurts anyone again, which Kaylie is determined to go through with but Tim has tried to rationalize the event. As they spend the night with the mirror, more supernatural events unravel, as does the story of their parents’ deaths.
The film is a little too ambitious in its approach to the story. Non-linear stories demand a lot of work to make them connect, and in this movie, it just doesn’t work. While the transitions are handled beautifully, swapping from one story to another can get confusing when the hallucinations come into play. That could have been the point of the filmmakers, to try and disorient the audience, but more than anything it’s just annoying to try and figure out what’s actually happening and what’s just the mirror messing with them. Otherwise the concept is intriguing and the dialogue is well written, as are the two stories if judged separately. The movie is light on the actual horror, trying to play coy with its monsters, not showing them early but it doesn’t work. There’s no scary payoff to the build up, though it will fray your nerves a little from the suspense.
Brenton Thwaites did better than Garrett Ryan, his younger actor, which is a good sign as he will be playing Prince Philip in the new Malificent movie. Karen Gillan’s performance seems a little stilted, though that could be because her American accent sounds really off. All the awards should go to Annalise Basso as young Kaylie, who is better than any child actor has a right to be. She really manages to get a grasp on the terror of the situation while trying to be the brave older sister. As for the parents, they are sufficiently creepy which is to say they lacked any of the warmth of real parents and were just standard props for nightmare fuel to people who fear of authority figures turning against them.
The overall cinematography is clear and crisp, with strong use of an enclosed environment that is never suffocating. The special effects range from horrifying to horrifyingly bad. Because the mirror is just a mirror and doesn’t do that cheesy rippling-water effect, it work as an prop to center the fear on, and to give credit where it’s due, it is hauntingly gorgeous. The mirror eyed victim look pretty cheesy when you get a good look at them but the gory detailed look of their deaths are well done.
Oculus is a film filled with potential but not the technical prowess, and I suspect budget, to pull it off. As it stands, it’s a good movie that should be watched at late night get together and sleepovers, if only because keep anyone awake in bed but will keep them thoroughly entertained. I have to give it points that it was so bad that it made me laugh. If you are curious it’s worth the watch for the interesting story or if you love thrillers.
– Good acting.
– Strong writing.
– Good concept.
– Too few good scares.
– The back and forth between timelines can be confusing.