Oculus was my most anticipated movie of the year. I had heard so many great things about this movie that I was scared there was no way it could live up to the greatness my head had created. Besides the awesome erotic fantasies staring Karen Gillan I had playing up there, my mind created a horror movie that would not only be amazing, but realign my perception of horror films. I don’t believe I have ever anticipated a genre flick this much that didn’t have Tarantino or Rodriguez behind it. So, was writer/director Mike Flanagan up to the task of sitting next to genre legends?
Kaylie and Tim (Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites) had a seriously messed up childhood. After their father (played by Rory Cochrane) kills their mother (Katee Sackoff), Tim offs his old man, then lands himself institutionalized. Kaylie and Tim blamed it all on a super creepy mirror (one look at that SOB and you know it’s haunted) that took control of their parents and made everything go batshit crazy. 11 years later Tim gets out and it just so happens that Kaylie gets her hands on the mirror. The two set out prove the mirror is evil and clear the family name. Only problem being that the mirror doesn’t want to go down without a fight. And trust me this mirror pulls out the big guns.
Oculus is Karen Gillan’s ship and she owns it for the duration. She plays Kaylie with a cool, in control approach and is borderline obsessed with proving this mirror is a malevolent force. Of course this is counter balanced by the just out of the nut hatch and I now know tons of psychology 101 jargon, Tim. With years of therapy Tim has come to terms with has happened and accepts full responsibility, believing all the spookiness was just his minds way of dealing with a father who was nuttier than squirrel shit. The acting all around is exceptional and Annalise Bass0 and Garret Ryan really sell it as the younger versions of Kaylie and Tim. These two really stole the show and knocked it out of the park. This cast all around sold it and really set a new bar for acting in genre flicks.
The true beauty of Oculus is in its execution. The movie jumps back and forth from past to present. At first this is done very traditionally with subtitles to indicating the year and such. BUT as the movie progress and the mirror gets up to its tomfoolery, the two-story lines catch up to one another and the entire story unfolds on one narrative. This is pulled off with some damn impressive cinematography. Michael Fimognari had each shot filled with tension and unease. This atmosphere he created is only enhanced by a subtle but foreboding soundtrack by The Newton Boys. It’s rare for me to get lost in a film but the crew here was clearly on the same page and came together to create one hell of a dread soak undercurrent that ran right up to a jaw dropper of an ending. When the credits began to roll, I stared mouth a gaped and dazed. Having seen Flanagan’s previous film Absentia (very solid low-budget flick) I should have know this man doesn’t mind kicking his audience in the nuts and he reared back and let us have it here.
For a movie with a main antagonist that is an inanimate object, Flanagan is able to really work in the scares. Much has to do with the solid atmosphere built by cast and crew, but you disregard Flanagan’s eye for horror and expertly crafted story. He never does reveal the mirrors origins (he does go into its insane history with previous owners, but never gives the low down on what exactly it is), but to be honest, I didn’t question it till the car ride home. He was able to suck me into the story and sell me on it. I cared for these characters, so when the scares started flying they hit their mark. Oculus features two of the best “cringe scenes” I have seen on the big screen. One, involving an apple (you most likely seen it features in the trailers) and the second involving fingernails and a staple remover. Jesus, just thinking about it makes my skin crawl.
So did Oculus live up to my expectations? Was it a horror flick that would redefine my personal definition of the word horror? Sadly no. BUT was it a damn awesome movie with amazing execution, fantastical score and stellar acting? Oh hell yeah! If Oculus had come out 5 years ago I would be declaring it the best horror movie ever made. Unfortunately for Flanagan and Co. we are in the midst of haunted house movie tsunami (you know it’s bad when one of the Wayan’s Brothers is spoofing it) and for that some of the tropes here felt a bit tired and predictable. Don’t let that deter you from laying down your hard-earned cash. Oculus is one you want to see on the big screen. Preferable not around any mirrors.