Director: Mike Flanagan
Writers: Mike Flanagan and Jeff Howard
Cast: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, and Katee Sackhoff
Horror hasn’t always been a favorite genre of mine. There are some amazing films among the category, but what turns me away from horror is the need to shock the viewer with extreme unnecessary violence that serves no purpose to the plot. Lately, there have been many thinking outside the box and delivering genuine thought provoking scares. For example, Insidious, Sinister, and even the Paranormal Activity films have brought terror to us without the grotesque gore that can be found in the Saw franchise. Oculus continues the tradition of serving worthwhile scary suspense, while leaving the shock gimmick behind.
The film delivers a surprisingly well constructed screenplay centering on two different time periods being told to the audience at once. In the first time period, we have Kaylie Russell (Guardian of the Galaxy’s Karen Gillian) and Tim Russell (Maleficient’s Brenton Thwaites) in the past as children dealing with their parents who appear to be having a massive mental breakdown. The second timeline takes place 12 years later, Tim Russell is all grown up but being released from a mental institution. Kaylie is now an engaged woman, and made a comfortable life for herself. However, now that her brother Tim is being released from the psych ward, she wants to face the tragic past together with him. What slowly becomes clear is all their years of pain and suffering, Kaylie believes has been caused by this 400 year old mirror, which may or may not be haunted by evil forces.
Kaylie picks up Tim from the institution and demands he come home with her, which he happily accepts. Once home, she doesn’t waste much time and brings up Tim’s worst fears. She has the evil mirror in her possession, and wants to destroy it once and for all with her brother’s help. Adding to Tim’s frustrations, Kaylie wants to prove that her parents didn’t lose their minds, but were victims of whatever plagues inside the mirror.
The story then begins this magnificent juggling act of how the past led to where they are now, meanwhile, establishing the present. This is all accomplished with the use of flashbacks of course of their childhood trauma. The pacing of this film is damn near flawless. Everything feels seamless in the transition of the past and present. I remember having complaints about this issue while watching Man of Steel, but here, the writing as well as the cutting of the dual storyline is perfectly balanced and never off rhythm. This made the story extremely engaging as the film delivered its supernatural scares.
Impressively, the film is almost told entirely from one location, but so much happens within that one setting, everything feels so much larger. Most of the action is within Kaylie and Tim’s childhood home, where they both have returned to battle the evil mirror. In the present, they have an arsenal of safety measures to defend themselves against the found mirror. Surveillance has been setup, temp readers, fail safes, scheduled phone calls, food and water, all in hopes to document what the mirror is capable of. Once things truly begin though, the suspense builds on a level I haven’t seen in a long time. Nothing is certain, and anything can be what the mirror wants you to see. Not since the Nightmare on Elm Street films has a movie played with a viewers false sense of reality so well. Many times I questioned whether I was seeing reality or not, which is an aspect I loved about the Freddy Krueger films.
Oculus is definitely not without its flaws. For one thing, it’s not scary on a disturbing level and I guarantee you will not lose any sleep after seeing it. There are jolting moments for sure but unless you have a 400 year old mirror hanging in your house, I doubt you’ll think too much about sleeping with a nite-lite. This might be a positive for some who don’t like being nervous after horror films though. Another issue I have is the finale is somewhat predictable. I called where I thought the story was heading midway through, but had completely forgotten by the time it arrived because of how tense the narrative unravels. So, it still surprised me to a degree.
That’s what makes Oculus a thrill though, which is the consistent nail biting tension maintained until the final moment. It may not keep you up at night but you won’t forget the ride.
It’s rare to see a film pieced together so incredibly well within this genre, and it deserves to be rewarded. I wasn’t interested in watching Oculus at all until I heard the positive word-of-mouth, and I’m telling you now, this is a surprisingly good movie. One that can be experienced and enjoyed with multiple viewings to catch all the pieces of the puzzle again. If you like a scary movie that’ll keep you guessing moment-to-moment then check this out. Just be sure and put away all antique mirrors after the screening.