Oculus

OculusOculus
Released: 2013
Director: Mike Flanagan

Mirrors have a long history of superstition and lore surrounding them – some cultures believe in their ability to trap souls, and others believe they can be a gateway into another realm when used correctly. On a smaller scale, I believe most of us have had at least one encounter with a mirror game as children; Bloody Mary was one of the most common ones in my memory. All things considered, it’s no surprise that the horror genre has latched onto the mirror as a tool for conveying terror and supernatural activity, to the point where it’s almost shocking when a film does not make use of a mirror gag.

Oculus takes the next logical step in this fixation, and makes the mirror itself the central focus of the horror in the story. Rather than allowing the mirror to take a secondary position as a gateway, or a form of communication, it makes the mirror a vessel of evil in and of itself. In doing so, it attempts to play on the characters’ and audience’s sense of truth, perception, and reality – and twist them all into unrecognizable shadows of themselves.

The film is told in two parallel timelines: one in the current time, where Tim, a young man in an institution for the supposed murder of his parents, is being released into the world again. Upon his release, he meets with his sister, Kaylie, who seems to have a well-adjusted life, with a job and a fiance. However, it quickly becomes apparent that Kaylie has spent the past years obsessed with uncovering the real cause of their parents’ deaths, which she believes to be an old mirror in the family home – a subject that Tim has spent the past years convincing himself was a personal delusion. Interspersed throughout this story are flashbacks to Kaylie and Tim’s childhood, and the events that lead up to the death of their parents.

This film caught me off-guard. From the premise alone, I expected something along the lines of the insipid remake of Into the Mirror, with a nearly incoherent storyline and over the top gore. I was pleasantly surprised that this was a smart little story that had quite a lot of heart to it.

At its best, this film creates a really fantastically claustrophobic atmosphere. Most of it takes place in Tim and Kaylie’s childhood home, with only them and the mirror as its primary focus. Because of this, the film is able to fit a lot of psychological build-up into the story. Kaylie comes across as incredibly prepared at the film’s start, almost overly so, to an unconvinced audience. Given room to breathe, the mirror tricks start to trickle in, almost innocuous at first, but obviously starting to wear down on the confidence Kaylie has.

Kaylie is an interesting character herself – and though she’s the only woman in the film with any thorough development (the mother’s part is minimal), she’s fleshed out decently well. She’s determined, and has built a good life for herself, in spite of her traumatic past. She’s in control of just about everything except for Karen Gillan’s rogue Scottish accent. I think she’s developed well enough to make the inevitable downfall that much more of a painful sucker punch. Sure, she could have left well enough alone and lived out her life happily, but that’s not how she is, and not what the evil entity wants for her.

Where this film fails, ultimately, is in the final culmination of all the eeriness and atmosphere it manages to accumulate. It doesn’t seem to know where to go with it, and rushes into a series of jump scares and shocks as the film reaches its grisly conclusion. With the first half of the film, a much more quiet level of manipulation is present, and the escalation into the over the top and violent scares seems forced. The ending feels somewhat lacking, partly because of this.

If you’re looking for a fun watch with a handful of truly decent scares, this would be worthwhile to check out. If you can look past a slightly uneven tone, and a rushed third act of the plot, you might find yourself pleasantly surprised by this.

Rating: 3 out of 5. Surprisingly solid, but falls apart somewhat in the third act. I was also tempted to knock off a full point for the hilariously distracting attempt at an American accent by Karen Gillan. Bless your heart, you were not convincing anyone.

Scariness level: There are some serious shudder-worthy moments, when you realize that what you’re seeing is not lining up with what’s truly happening.

Violence level: Medium. There’s definitely some graphic stuff, including the original murder of the parents, and a handful of other deaths. Plus, teeth being pulled out, which is a major personal squick.

Bechdel test: Nope. I think it technically passes, from one conversation between a young Kaylie and her mother in a flashback, but that’s really grasping at straws.

Mako Mori test: This one is more arguable. Kaylie is single-mindedly pursuing the truth and destruction of the mirror, but it’s mostly to clear her father’s name.

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Posted on April 13, 2015, in Films and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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