Look, let’s make one thing crystal clear, we’re not reinventing the wheel here. A lot of Mike Flanagan’s “Oculus” you’ve more than likely experienced before, in one way or another. And If I’m to be honest, the only reason I watched “Oculus” is because I’m an admirer of director Mike Flanagan’s ultra-low-budget horror flick “Absentia.” A film that caught a bad break when it’s marketing team really misrepresented the film with simple, stereotypical horror posters and publicity. All misdirection aside however, if you haven’t seen “Absentia,” I highly suggest you give it a whirl. It’s a brilliant, atmospheric slow-burn that delivers some seriously unsettling content and chilling scares…but I digress. So, given that “Oculus” appeared to be nothing more than a retread through its awareness campaign and that the film didn’t really provoke much interest from me, except for Flanagan being attached, I didn’t expect much from it going in…
Well, this is the part where I’m supposed to completely shift focus and tell you how exceptional “Oculus” turned out to be and that I loved it! Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I can’t in good conscious lead you on like that. That being said, I can inform you that I was pleasantly surprised with what “Oculus” presented and that it is arguably the second best horror flick I’ve seen so far this year, the chillingly claustrophobic and chaotic “In Fear” still holds the distinction of being number one on my list. Now, taking into account that we’re barely four months into the new year, saying that “Oculus” is one of the year’s best doesn’t exactly hold much weight. With the likes of “Devil’s Due” and the fifth feature in the “Paranormal Activity” series barely making pre-teens have nightmares, even the competition hasn’t been top notch. I really hope this year in horror turns around…but enough about that, back to “Oculus.”
A young woman, Kaylie, tries to exonerate her brother, Tim, who was convicted of murdering their father eleven years ago by proving that the crime was committed by a supernatural force that dwells inside an old mirror.
The film plays out through a series of flashbacks that are recollected by our two protagonists eleven years into the present, who are simultaneously setting in motion a plan to prove the existence of an evil presence living inside the aforementioned mirror, with the intent of destroying it once they’ve obtained their evidence. Additionally, as If that isn’t complicated enough, the possessed mirror continuously distorts reality, making it nearly impossible to predict or conclude what is real and what is fabricated. So right away I became mesmerized by the complexity and hypnotic nature of the story and its many gambits. “Oculus” is a lot smarter than its surface insinuates. However, it does occasionally drift and as flabbergastingly impressive as the film’s editing is, the tale could’ve used sounder structuring. It simply feels a tad too out of control and it is, at some spots, difficult to decipher and follow.
Our evil, devilish antagonist declares, “I’ve met my demons, and they are many. I’ve seen the devil, and I am him.” A chilling, memorable line that won’t soon be forgotten by horror fanboys. Sadly though, it is one of the few things I do recall from “Oculus.” I’m not saying the film isn’t scary, I myself got spooked from time to time, more so during the film’s later half, and I’m not that easily frightened. The most terrifying aspect of the film has got to be these mysterious apparitions, which turn out to be the haunted mirror’s previous victims. They have reflective, glowing eyes that dot the blackness with a sinister demeanour and appear unannounced throughout the film. They really illuminate this overwhelming feeling of hopelessness that radiates from “Oculus.” Nonetheless, overall the film isn’t exactly one you’ll lose sleep over. Yet, the deliciously nauseating apple scene will definitely make your stomach turn.
The only name I recognized attached to “Oculus,” with the exception of director Mike Flanagan, was actress Karen Gillian. Portraying present Kaylie, Gillian gives an inspired performance and really does her best to hold everything together. She’s got the talent and it shows, it is just too apparent that the script let her down. Brenton Thwaites, who tackles the complex role of adult Tim, unfortunately leaves a lot to be desired. Actually, I found it rather perplexing that Garrett Ryan and Annalise Basso, who portray the younger versions of Kaylie and Tim respectively, without question stole the show. I just didn’t expect such investment, terror, and dedication to burst forth from such young actors. Rory Cochrane, whom I immediately recognized having seen his face, does capture the isolated, distant, deteriorating aura of someone possessed, but doesn’t exactly shine blindingly. As for Katie Sackhoff, much like the rest of the cast, is slightly above mediocre.
Providing consistent scares, passable performances, and a script that’s probably too smart for its own good, makes “Oculus” worth the look for die-hard horror fans. However, it’s blatantly open-ended finale which leaves tons of room for countless sequels seems a bit too eager and will undoubtedly turn its fair share of viewers away.
Oculus: 7 out of 10.