The horror industry can be perfectly compared to a zombie. It died a while ago and now it has come back to life but somethings different, It’s smellier, slower and moan-ier, But you can clearly see that it is in fact NOT DEAD.
After a slew of James Wan films to complete the resurgence of the genre, we now have Oculus, a psychological horror-drama by Director Mike Flanagan, which has the potential to unsettle you even if it doesn’t make you jump from your seats in fright.
The story opens to Tim Russell (Brenton Thwaites) being released from prison after serving 11 years for the alleged murder of his father. He is only 21 and has spent a majority of his life rationalizing the one mistake he made as a child. His 23 year old sister Kaylie (Karen Gilian) however has been preparing intensively while Tim is away in prison. Upon his release she spends very little time reminding him of the promise they made that horrifying night 11 years ago and that was to destroy the entity that tore their family apart, a mirror which according to Kaylie contains an observable, predictable and supernatural force.
The film employs a very interesting narrative style that follows Kaylie and Tim in two different timelines right from the get go. The first is told from the perspective of their present day versions while constantly switching back to an earlier timeline from the days their family first acquires the possessed mirror 11 years ago, tracing forward to the night of the murder.
What makes this interweaving timeline interesting is the location. Kaylie takes Tim back to their childhood home where the murder of their father first occurred. She brings the mirror there as well as she finds it to be the perfect location for its ultimate demise, but not before she has proven to the world about the existence of the spirit that resides inside in it (cue multiple recording cameras and heat detecting machines).
You might think that seeing the same version of the house in two timelines would be boring but this is where the film truly shines in the hands of the director. He makes interesting interjections in the plot lines based on certain locations within the house where important incidents have occurred, giving the family home a character of its own. While the older versions of the kids contemplate their actions, the possibilities of evil spirits and recall the incidents of the night in question, their younger versions take over from time to time as the story unfolds in a balanced pace paying equal attention to past and present events.
This tangled form of storytelling makes for a great pay off in the last act of the film as we understand what truly conspired on the night in question and the result of Kaylie’s persistence to destroy the mirror in one final masterstroke of a scene. It was expected but still extremely satisfying in a disturbing way.
The acting is solid throughout, the parents Alan and Marie (Rory Cochrane and Katee Sackhoff) do justice to their roles of the principle objects of manipulation for the mirror. Both versions of Tim and Kaylie do a commendable job, Karen Gilian being the stand out performer in the film. You root for her almost immediately as she goes about persistently trying to bring down the evil force that tore her family apart.
The cinematography is impressive for a first time director and the somber tone chosen goes hand in hand with an insignificant background track that doesn’t do very much to distract the audience from the complex plotline that is unfolding before their eyes.
The scares don’t come from jump scenes which speaks a lot about the maturity horror films are showing these days using genuine elements of deception and paranoia to spook the audiences instead of cheap party tricks and buckets of fake gore. The mirror holds the power to manipulate perceptions and it is used as well as it could be to traumatize the characters onscreen and leave an impact on the audience that has been craving for more from the genre.
Oculus is overall a good film with a sensible plot and a decent cast of actors. Its object of affection, the mirror, makes for an interesting element and the narrative style keeps you glued to the screen. The story does become predictable at times with a cluttered second half that takes a dramatic turn from the first half.
I’m going with a 7 out of 10 for the flick, catch it before Spidey comes back to sling it out of the screens.