Review: Oculus (Monte’s Take)

2014/04/14 16:02:59 +00:00 | Monte Yazzie

Evoking fear from a mirror, an object used frequently in the history of horror, and sustaining suspense for the duration of a film is a difficult undertaking. Director Mike Flanagan, who last helmed the melancholy dramatic horror film Absentia, doesn’t try to make a monster out of a mirror, but instead focuses on a character driven and methodically paced film that crafts a smart and unsettling story.

The film is based off a short film directed by Flanagan in 2006. The story centers on the sibling relationship of Tim (Brenton Thwaites) and Kaylie (Karen Gillan), whose family was torn apart by a madness caused by an antique mirror known as the Lasser Glass. Tim has just been released from a mental institute on his 21st birthday and his sister Kaylie is waiting to pick him up. She has been following the ownership of the mirror for some time and has devised a plan for her and Tim to destroy the mirror once and for all.

Flanagan approaches the composition of the film in a unique way, spending time to develop the characters, but also editing the film seamlessly within the present and the past. The characters Tim and Kaylie experienced the evil of the mirror as children, and the film at times shares the screen with both the younger and older versions of the characters at the same time. While this could have easily become a distracting technique Flanagan makes it work in adding depth to the narrative mystery, blurring the boundaries of what is reality verse the devious reflections of the mirror.

For a film that advertises itself in the same company as Insidious and The Conjuring, it’s a different kind of film altogether.  Instead of utilizing the environmental elements to promote scares like other horror films, “Oculus” instead becomes more psychological. The “scary” aspect in this film comes from the loss of oneself through the trickery utilized by the mirror. In one effective scene the siblings begin to argue and objects in the room suddenly shift and change. Unknowingly the two have manipulated the room but they don’t find out until they look at video of themselves doing the mirror’s bidding.  While much of the film works nicely in the end, especially the jarring confusion of reality, there are a few missteps when the peaking suspense is undermined for arbitrary scares.

The performance by cast is quite good, with Karen Gillan offering a steadfast attitude that gives her a confidence that works nicely for her determination to destroy the mirror. Katee Sackhoff gives one of her better performances; her spiraling descent into the control of the mirror is chilling when paired with the despair seen on the faces of children who are losing their mother.

While Oculus may not offer the startling experience seen in recent horror films, it’s still an intelligent film that executes an ingenious technique to bring the horrors of a family’s past and present together for a dark ride.

Movie Score: 3.5/5