Posted: June 25, 2014 in Film reviews
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Directed by Mike Flanagan. Starring Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Katee Sackhoff and Rory Cochrane.

Tim (Thwaites) has just been released from the mental institute where he’s been for eleven years since he shot and killed his father (who had tortured and murdered his mother.) He’s spent that time accepting the reality of the events that transpired on that final evening in the family home, and that no supernatural forces were at play, it was simply a case that his father went insane and killed his mother.

He’s met by his older sister, Kaylie (Gillan). Whilst physiatrists have spent years dismantling Tim’s apparent delusions about a possessed mirror, and rebuilding his psyche to accept a rational explanation for the events that occurred eleven years ago, Kaylie has spent the time obsessively researching the dark history of the antique mirror that she still firmly believes was responsible for the death of their parents.

Now she’s used her position working at an auction house to gain temporary possession of the said mirror. She’s planning to take it back to the family home where she hopes to prove that her father was not insane, and that it was supernatural forces that drove him to acts of violence against his family. Reluctantly Tim accompanies her to discover she has set up cameras, temperature gauges and motion sensors inside the house. Kaylie thinks she’s fully prepared for whatever might happen. Tim thinks she’s delusional.

On the surface Oculus seems fairly familiar fare. A family tragedy in the past- check; psychologically damaged survivors of said tragedy- check; an evil object capable of possessing the living- check; an abandoned house- check; violence and blood- check.

That Oculus is better than many of the generic horror films it appears to riff off of is testament to a decent script, inventive direction and a good cast.

Although it relies on the odd jump scare, for the most part Oculus takes the more difficult, but more rewarding route of creating an unsettling atmosphere, which means when things do occur they’re all the scarier for it. It’s a creepy film and, whilst it doesn’t bear much relation to it, I couldn’t help thinking of John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness whilst watching it. Like Carpenter Flanagan creates an air of dread, and the Carpenter’eque pared back electronic score further cements the comparison.

The film also eschews a linear narrative to flit back and forth between the present and the past, and the scenes of the family’s disintegration are as compelling as the scenes in the present day, in fact often they’re more harrowing given that we see Tim and Kaylie as children. As the film progresses past and future appear to become intertwined, to the point where, at times, the older Tim talks to the younger Kaylie and the older Kaylie talks to the younger Tim without any awareness that they’re separated by time. It’s a neat technique for further confusing the issue of just what is going on. What’s clear from the off in Oculus is that what you think you see often isn’t what’s really going on.

Her American accent is a trifle odd, and yes I did keep expecting Matt Smith to pop out at any moment, but Karen Gillan puts in a good central performance as the driven and obsessive Kaylie. As her brother Thwaites conveys his character’s sense of confusion admirably as he goes from disbelief back to acceptance once he understands that Kaylie may have a point. It should be noted that Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan do sterling work as the younger Tim and Kaylie as well.

Rory Cochrane as the dad plays unhinged well, and manages to portray both a loving father and a homicidal maniac equally well. The star of the show, however, for me is Katee Sackhoff who takes her character through a gamut of emotions; At first she’s a happy, loving wife and mother, before becoming increasingly paranoid, disgusted with herself and eventually manic, and by the end she’s scarier than the dad is.

The twisty non-linear nature of the story does mean that, by the end, things become a little too confused, and if you can’t see the end coming a mile away you probably weren’t paying attention. The ending is also a little sudden. In addition the more you see of the ‘ghosts’ the less creepy they become, although these are common problems amongst a lot of horror films, and Oculus manages to go further than most before derailing somewhat.

Despite its flaws Oculus is still more inventive than most modern horror films, and whilst it does shout “Boo!” at you at times, and it does show blood and gore, these are never its central selling points. This is a film that wants to creep you out more than it wants to make you jump, or make you wince, and it succeeds more times than it fails.

Mirror Mirror on the wall, what’s the best horror film I’m seen in a while? (Yes I know that doesn’t rhyme, give me a break!)

  1. That sounds interesting – I shall keep an eye out for it.

  2. starkers70 says:

    Definitely worth a watch. I’m certainly going to catch it again when it’s on DVD.

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