As I’ve mentioned (more than once), I do love me a good horror flick…especially if I’ve been lucky enough to have caught said horror flick with little to no knowledge of the actual plot.
This was the case with ‘Oculus’. I knew that it was generally well-received, featured Scottish hottie Karen Gillan (Doctor Who) and had something to do with a mirror. That was it. So, last night, my sexy girlfriend and I found ourselves in a ‘horror’ kinda mood. And then we stumbled across ‘Oculus’.
‘Oculus’ opens with 21 year old ‘Tim’, during a final therapy session, apparently within the cozy confines of an institution. Seems that somewhere in his past, it was felt that he MAY have been responsible for the death of his parents, after Mom was found essentially mauled and shot to death, while Dad wound up with a fatal case of ‘suspicious-bullet-to-the-chest’. This therapy session is to be the last while in the loony bin, to which he’s been confined for nearly a decade. Stepping into the parking lot, he is immediately greeted by his 23 year old sister ‘Kaylie’ (Karen Gillan). ‘Kaylie’ wastes no time getting to the point. Seems that she feels that the ‘delusions’ that got ‘Tim’ locked up to begin with, are real…and threatening. Through her work (art restoration? international shipping? high-profile auction industry? (shrugs in confusion)), she has been able to chase down the ‘MacGuffin’ of the story: a sinister and ornate antique mirror. ..and has arranged to spend a lil ‘quality’ time with it (wink wink). Seem’s there’s a whole slew of former owners who met with unpleasant ends, all while this thing was present. And now ‘Kaylie’ wants to study AND nuke it, to prove ‘Tim’s’ innocence. Having spend 9 years confined and mentally ‘fixed’, he can’t commit to her fight, as he know longer believes that what happened…actually happened. After some pleading, and coercion, “Tim’ finds himself smack in the middle of ‘Kaylie’s’ clever plan. Having returned to ‘the scene of the crime’, with the mirror in tow, ‘Kaylie’ lays out the clinical nature of her thoroughly scientific plotting. After a bout of arguing about the ‘rights n wrongs’ of what they’re doing, the mirror ‘behaves’…and the ‘mind-fuck’ begins.
‘Oculus’ took an old idea ( haunted, nefarious inanimate object vs humans), and gave it a new and interesting (though admittedly thin) coat of paint. One element I must praise ‘up n coming’ director Mike Flanagan for is his method of giving us two stories simultaneously, in a novel way that lent some *pop* to the narrative. While we follow the supernatural experimentations and sufferings of ‘Tim’ and ‘Kaylie’, we also get the scoop on what led to this lethal mischief.
We also see the story of the two siblings as kids, who have to endure the increasingly strange and dangerous behavior of their parents, ‘Alan’ (Rory Cochrane) and ‘Marie’ (Katee Sakhoff); behavior that began with the introduction of a certain creepy mirror into ‘Alan’s’ office. Other ‘symptoms’ include rapidly dying house plants, a suddenly ill pet dog, eerie electrical interference and a strange woman glimpsed. As these stories run ‘side by side’, the tempo of the editing noticeably increases, as does the tension, while each story races toward it’s frantic climax. The interconnected story elements were well presented; nicely seamless with a solid pace.
The acting is a couple notches above Average. Karen Gillan did a damn fine North American accent (didn’t notice ANY of her usual Scottish lilt) as ‘Kaylie’, while the girl who played ‘Young Kaylie’ (Annalise Basso) gave the potentially one-dimensional child version a lil extra depth, really selling the fear and the determination that grows as the terror increases around her. Both versions of the brother ‘Tim’ (Brenton Thwaites and Garrett Ryan) are well-played also, with Ryan standing out with his convincing (and touching?) portrayal of a terrified and victimized kid. As the parents, Rory Cochrane (‘Dazed and Confused’) managed to get a feeling of ‘fairness’ and ‘even keeled’ness across, even while his actions step solidly toward ‘Lunatic'(and with him, at times, resembling a face-stuffed hamster). Katee Sakhoff (Battlestar Galactica) had less to work with but still ‘sells’ mental and physical degradation of an average, well-balanced woman. By the time she reaches ‘critical mass’, she’s ferocious in her animal-like manner (when she attacks, it’s scary). The only issue I had with the acting and direction with the characters was the stupid, cheap-looking Lazer-Tag game that the kids were ALWAYS playing with. It seemed FAR too 1988 for the time period in which it was set. Plus, when they weren’t being set upon by spectral entities or deranged parents, it’s ALL they seemed to do.
As this is a ‘haunting’ flick, there’s not a lot of room for excessive gore, which this film doesn’t need. That being said (written?), there are a couple moments of hurtyness that literally had me crawling in discomfort (ask my girlfriend!). Let’s just say that torn-off fingernails aren’t on my List of Favorite Things…and I’ll never look at a light bulb quite the same way, after this flick.
Back to the ‘haunting’ part, we do see some creepy muthafuckas as the mirror gains strength and determination (much like the Overlook Hotel did in ‘The Shining’), in the form of the mirrors prior victims, only now ghostified…with creepy-ass mirrored eyeballs!! But, for the most part, clever editing conveys the effects the mirror has on it’s surrounding area…and victims. One of the tools that ‘Kaylie’ has set up for her revenge/experiment is a collection of cameras documenting everything. The use of REWIND and PLAY BACK add to the tension as, often, things are revealed to not be what they were originally thought to be. We experience the confusion of the characters, thus putting the viewer (or, at least, me) in a higher state of tension, which in turn made the ‘shock’ scares all the more effective. There is some very good directing/editing on display here.
All in all, ‘Oculus’ was a very enjoyable ‘haunting’ flick for me. It did exactly what it seems to have set out to do…and, for the most part, did it well. The story was creatively told, the characters had ‘something’ to them, the supernatural elements were creepy and the ending was unsettlingly satisfying. Without spoiling anything (I think), the movie that I was instantly reminded of, as the credits rolled, was ‘Se7en’ (1995), in the ‘flavoring’ of the finale’. That MAY give you an idea of what you’re in for, if you see this flick…which you should.
Now, I dare you to break the mirror…if you can.