Oculus is a suspense/horror movie from writer/director Mike Flanagan. It jumps back and forth telling the horrific story of the Russell family, both in present day, and 12 years ago. Tim Russell (Brenton Thwaites) has finally been released from a mental hospital following past events. His sister Kaylie (
Amy Pond Karen Gillan) is convinced a haunted antique mirror was the source of their family’s troubles, and is determined to prove it. Reluctantly, Tim helps her in her plan, expecting what she really needs is help letting go of the past.
I think my expectations were a tad too high for this one. I remember being moderately intrigued by the trailers, but never getting a chance to see it in theatres. Moderate levels of praise kept my expectations tempered in the interim. After learning Flanagan has been given a chance to write and direct Stephen King’s completely unfilmable Gerald’s Game, and that some people thought he was a good choice–largely because of this movie–it moved to the top of my To-See list.
I guess I can see why folks would site this as proof Flanagan can handle King’s muddied, dreamlike tale of a powerful woman in a powerless situation. That’s basically, at its core, what’s happening here in Oculus. Gillan’s character has been completely obsessed with proving the mirror to be evil. The goal has focused her, and turned her into a strong, determined female lead. For the first half of the movie, though, Thwaites’ character attempts to rationalize the events of the past create a few reasonable doubts. Tim never deters Kaylie, but he almost sells us on the idea.
One thing that really sells the “mystery” aspect of this story is the way the flashbacks are handled. The siblings recount the events of the past to one another, and to themselves, and when they snap back to the present day they’re doing something all together different. For the first hour we’re left to wonder if this is really the power of the mirror, or just some shell-shocked 20-somethings having trouble focusing. During this reasonable doubting hour the movie manages to maintain a moderately interesting story but, unfortunately fails to deliver on any real scares or tension. The mystery of what really happened 12 years ago is just enough to carry you past the 60 minute mark, when the knob finally gets turned up on the crazy.
The main thing this first hour has going for it, though, is the fantastic performances turned in by all the adult actors involved. Sure, the kids do fine, as far as kids go. But Gillan and Thwaites turn in solid performances. Katee Sackhoff and Rory Cochrane deliver such great supporting performances as the troubled Russell parents that they feel almost criminally underused.
Oculus’ disappointment comes mainly from a general lack of scares and gore. Maybe had I seen it in the theatre, I might have gotten more scares out of it. There are a couple genuinely creepy moments, and there’s definitely some good tension building going on here. Unfortunately, I found I was really more interested in the mystery of the story, and the “How’re they gonna get out of this pickle?” aspect once the shit hits the fan. By the ending the movie left me satisfied on the whole, though.
I’d definitely recommend this to someone who has run out of thrillers to watch. I don’t feel that excitedly moving it to the top of my queue did it any favours.
P.S.Another reason to support Flanagan’s potential in filming Gerald’s Game is a noticeably strong influence, in my opinion, from some of King’s other work, It, and The Shining.