Oculus stars Karen Gillan (Dr. Who) as a woman who is convinced that an antique mirror is responsible for a bunch of terrible shit happening to her and her family 11 years prior. It's way better than it sounds
Oculus absolutely exceeded my expectations. It premiered in September 2013, then got farted into theaters in April the next year. When I think good horror, I think mid April. I heard good things about it from people I trust so I picked it up when it came out on Blu Ray and I can’t believe how much I enjoyed it. Even after hearing good things, I was still expecting a bunch of shitty jump scares. You know, 90 minutes of someone looking into the mirror and then it turns into a ~big scary monster~ and an ear piercing noise plays. Maybe a long, slow zoom of a character looking at their reflection, then right as the music cuts out the fucking cat jumps into frame. That stupid shit. But it wasn’t like that at all. There were a couple of jumps in the first act (mostly to spice up a rather long character intro) but once the movie kicks in it’s just plain creepy. It’s not scary, and it’s not a particularly good ghost/possession story. It’s just fucking creepy. If you allow yourself to get invested in the characters you’ll be tight butthole through most of the last half hour.
The part of the movie that stands out most (besides a red head main character. My weakness) is its non-linear storytelling. I’m going to try to be as spoiler free as possible, but I’ll say this much. Some shit went down to siblings Kaylie (Karen Gillan) and Tim (Brenton Thwaites) when they were kids. Their parents ended up dead, Tim ended up in therapy, and Kaylie bounced around foster care until she was an adult. He gets out on his 21st birthday, deemed fully rehabilitated, and she meets up with him and tells him she has the mirror and they have to destroy it. So basically this dude spends every second of his life after a traumatizing event in rigorous therapy, then gets out and is immediately told “hey remember all that goofy shit they told you isn’t real? It’s real, let’s go kill a mirror.”
|Almost cute enough to get me to sit through an episode of Dr. Who. Almost|
As the third act escalates, it cuts back and forth between the past and present. Both story lines play out in tandem seamlessly. We see what’s happening to them in the present as they try to destroy the mirror as well as what happened in the past to them and their parents. They’ll run into a room and slam a door, and when it cuts inside it’ll be them as children in the past living a similar situation. A lesser director would fall on their face trying to juggle these back and forth but Mike Flanagan does an expert job and only leaves you confused when he wants you to.
I say when he wants you to be confused because the movie plays on the effects of PTSD and schizophrenia. Without spoiling too much, it’s a movie about a haunted mirror. It’s not going to grow arms and legs and chase them, so it’s more cerebral. They see shit that’s not really there. You’ve got one character who has spent his entire teenage life coping with and accepting trauma and a character who never had any sort of counseling and believes 100% with every fiber of her being that an old mirror is responsible for what happened in their past. She has a frantic energy when reading through the history of the mirror that makes you, the person who sat down to watch a movie about an evil mirror, wonder if this shit is actually just in her head after all.
You’ve got a mirror playing tricks with their mind causing hallucinations, cuts from the past to the present, and unreliable narrators who don’t know if what they’re seeing is real. Needless to say, the third act gets pretty fuckin' bonkers.
I mentioned in the beginning that the first act is pretty slow. That's my biggest flaw with the movie. This is less of a horror movie and more of a "thriller" - that annoying genre that's hard to fit into specifically action or horror. It's not a slasher or a found footage movie or a jump-fest, it's a psychological thriller so obviously you have to care about the characters for any of it to impact you. Problem is, it's a slow beginning. If the movie loses you, it's never going to get you back.
Final Verdict: Another director could have easily fucked this up and turned it into a shitty movie about mirrors. You ever see Mirrors with Kiefer Sutherland? Like I said, it’s not particularly scary, but it’s creepy as fuck. I wasn’t leaping out of my seat, but after it was over I definitely averted my eyes away from the mirror in the bathroom. Great directing, great writing, great acting, and all under the banner of WWE Studios. Who would’ve thought?