Oculus Movie Review
Written by Ryan Holloway
Released by Warner Brothers UK
Directed by Mike Flanagan
Written by Mike Flanagan and Jeff Howard
2014, 104 minutes, Cert 15 (UK)
Karen Gillan as Kaylie
Brenton Thwaites as Tim
Katee Sackhoff as Marie
Rory Cochrane as Alan
If there is one way to ensure a horror film's success come opening weekend its some clever casting. Hire the always reliable, and frankly awesome, Katee Sackhoff and add fanboy favourite Karen Gillan and you're at least guaranteed bums on seats from your core audience. That brief cynicism aside both are on predictably fine form in Mike Flanagan's second big screen outing after 2011's impressive Absentia.
Expanded from Flanagan's 2005 short film Oculus Chapter Three: The Man With the Plan, the plot centres on Tim (Thwaites) who is coming to terms with the horrors of his past. Those horrors stem from an antique mirror (The Lasser Glass) bought by his father, (Cochrane), which slowly starts to toy with the mind of its owner and the rest of the house. This may sound like a tired idea but Oculus is anything but and is actually a far more intriguing dive into the psychological than it is a run of the mill possession film.
What is gratefully appreciated is the effort made to flesh out the main characters. Tim has been in a mental institution trying to come to terms with events that only he and his sister Kaylie (Gillan) survived, and once released he finds that Kaylie isn't quite as at peace with the past as he has learned to be. Both are excellent as siblings coming to terms with what is essentially an abusive past and although there are some great scares in the early moments of the film, we are also invited to wonder whether this was always simply all in the minds of the emotionally fragile pair.
Don't be fooled however, into thinking that you've seen it all before, what ensues over the next 90 or so minutes, after a cleverly worked first act, is a twisted narrative that takes us from the past to the future and back again, over and over and sometimes mixing the two making for some deliciously eerie moments. It's this distorted narrative that creates a fast-paced film that is the cinematic equivalent of a Cornetto brain-freeze.
When in the past, we see the family before it all went wrong and watch, often through our fingers and with clenched teeth as things slowly get darker and more violent. Refreshingly, the young actors playing Tim and Kaylie are exceptional and we feel their fear as they struggle to come to terms with the behaviour of their parents. Katee Sackhoff delivers yet another realistic and perfectly balanced performance as a mother trying to protect her children and struggling to cope with her husband's increasingly secretive and aggressive actions. All of this results in a tumble into paranoia and depression... and a nasty taste for crockery. Ouch.
The present narrative sees Kaylie, reveal her plan to uncover the mysteries of the mirror and convince her brother that it wasn't all in his mind but very, very real. Gillan, with American accent, and having grown back her trademark red locks, plays frenzied and vengeful very well and riffs perfectly off of Thwaites' mentally vulnerable Tim who refuses to be dragged back into the psychological hell he has spent years coming to terms with.
The longer the film goes on, the crazier the narrative gets which sends you into a confusion of fear, anxiety and good old fashioned terror. Throw in some scary and gory supernatural elements and you have a film that delivers on many levels.
The 'monster' within the Lasser Glass is genuinely frightening but is the only character not to be fully fleshed out. This leaves you feeling a little bit short-changed and although I would never want to advocate horror sequels for horror sequels sake, Oculus cries out for one, or perhaps even... gulp... a prequel?