The latest haunted mirror movie has arrived with Oculus! Does it reflect a good horror movie or does this mirror need to be shattered? 411's Joseph Lee checks in with his full review!
*Karen Gillan as Kaylie Russell
*Brenton Thwaites as Tim Russell
*Annalise Basso as Young Kaylie
*Garrett Ryan as Young Tim
*Rory Cochrane as Alan Russell
*Katee Sackhoff as Marie Russell
*James Lafferty as Michael
Story: A woman tries to exonerate her brother, who was convicted of murder, by proving that the crime was committed by a supernatural phenomenon.
Trivia: The film is based upon an earlier short film by director Mike Flanagan, Oculus: Chapter 3 - The Man with the Plan.
Mirrors can be creepy with the right context. Horror movies use them for cheap scares all the time, and yet when you focus a horror movie around the concept of a haunted mirror it never turns out that well. Sometimes they will be as poor as Amityville: A New Generation or The Boogey Man. The best of this niche in horror is Mirrors, and even that's not exactly a great film as it had its own share of problems. Oculus is probably on that level, as it doesn't seem to live up to its own lofty goals.
The film begins with Tim Russell (Thwaites) being released from a mental facility after years of psychiatric care. As it turns out, he killed his father (who murdered his mother), saving his sister's life. The two always blamed a mirror in their father's study, which seems malevolent. Tim seems cured of these "delusions" while Kaylie (Gillan) is as convinced as ever and plans to prove that it is an evil mirror that causes people to kill themselves and others.
One thing you'll notice immediately about Oculus is that it likes to time jump. It does this whenever it is convenient to show more of the story in the past as it relates to the present. As the movie progresses, it begins to show more and more of the past so that the two timelines are interchangeable and you're never quite sure when you are. This is a huge problem. The concept is meant to not only show the parallels between the two timelines (as you'll see when the film reaches its climax) but it's meant to disorient the viewer as they take this journey with the leads.
The problem is that its perhaps too clever for its own good as it uses the time jump too often. It results in the story becoming a messy, convoluted affair that's not all that entertaining to watch. As a scene builds momentum, it immediately switches to another timeline and focuses on something else, taking the viewer out of the story for a moment. It is an interesting way to present a horror film but it's also a device that is relied on too often to the detriment of the story it's trying to tell.
Another problem is the mirror itself. The mirror almost seems too powerful, as there doesn't appear to be any limits to what it can do and what it can influence. There is no explanation for the mirror's power, what the evil force is or how it came to be that way. The only exposition given in regards to the mirror its its bloody and macabre history of past victims. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as the scene works in establishing the mirror is not to be trifled with. Horror movies don't have to explain everything to be scary. However, the fact that we know nothing about the mirror, including any limits on its power, is a detriment.
At no point in this film are there any hope spots. That is essential for building suspense, as you have to have some belief that your main characters are going to get out of this otherwise you're just watching bad things happen to good people. One on hand, an unstoppable foe can make the victory all the more impressive. But if you give the evil too much power, you're left with the Ju-On series: everyone dies and there's no way to ever overcome the ghosts. Alternatively, you could be stuck with a slasher sequel featuring an all-powerful villain leading to some improbable finale that kills it (for now). Oculus straddles the line far too often and makes its mirror seem not only all-powerful, but also omnipotent.
While there are some serious flaws with its story, it is saved from being a bad film by two important items. First of all, this is a creepy movie. This film is seething with atmosphere as the mirror's influence over the house causes the viewer (and the main characters) to not trust anything they see. That means even the normal things we think are real have the possibility of not being real. The supernatural things we think are obviously fake could be there and could pose a threat. The ghosts themselves, when present, are the scariest thing about the movie, mostly due to their eyes. It's amazing what a little trick photography with the eyes and a slasher smile can do.
The movie also has some strong performance from its cast. Not only do Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites hold their own as the two leads, but the two child actors (Basso & Ryan) and the actors playing their parents (Cochrane and Sackhoff) also manage to bring some skilled acting to the picture. Sackhoff in particular has to go to some disturbing places over the course of the movie and did so effortlessly. With a weak cast, this movie could have easily fell apart early on. Thankfully every single actor was up to the challenge and managed to sell the premise of the story, keeping the viewer hooked when other problems would attempt to derail the whole experience.
If you're a fan of haunted mirror movies, you might want to give this a chance when it hits DVD. The story is a mess thanks to its own gimmicks but if you can overlook that and just enjoy it for the creepy moments and fine acting within, you may end up enjoying this. It's certainly not the worst mirror-themed horror film out there and it has enough good moments in to justify watching it at least once.
The 411: Oculus is a decidedly average horror movie with a time jumping concept that gets a little too clever for its own good resulting in a mess of a story. The film is saved by it's use of atmosphere and strong acting from the entire cast, but it's better suited as a DVD rental than paying the full price of a theater ticket.