Movie Review: “Oculus”

ImageThe women do the heavy lifting in “Oculus,” this April’s “Insidious,” a
complex and chilling big screen ghost story with serious date movie
“Doctor Who” alumna Karen Gillan sheds her Scots accent and most outward
signs of emotion as Kaylie, a young woman who went through something terrible
and, she is convinced, something supernatural eleven years before. Now, she’s
out to prove that and “kill it,” the thing that killed her parents and put her
brother into a mental institution for over a decade.
The “thing” that did this — an ornate, Baroque mirror, which seemed to
possess her parents and, when she and her brother were little, tricked them out
of destroying it.
Kaylie stares at the mirror with the look of a stone-cold killer. Or
glass-breaker. She’s taken a job at an auction house to get that mirror within
her reach. She’s set up cameras, computer sensors and timers to monitor its evil
and document what she does to it.
The problem — she’s dragged baby brother Tim (Brenton Thwaites), fresh from
the mental hospital, along as a witness and helper. They’re back in the house
where their parents died. And Tim, filled to the gills with psychobabble, sees
himself as the one who “faced it,” dealt with the trauma of that night with
mental health professionals. To him, there is no “super” in super natural. Just
a dad (Rory Cochrane) who killed their mom (Katee Sackhoff) after she went crazy
over an affair he was having.
Co-writer, director and editor Mike Flanagan structures this Night of
Reckoning in parallel story lines. We have Kaylie and Tim wrestling with their
past, teasing and tormenting the haunted mirror, goading it to kill again. And
we have them as kids — fearfully played by Annalise Brasso and Garrett Ryan —
terrified as their family explodes, forced to be “really brave” to face what
they cannot fathom.
Gillan handles the film’s exposition, a long, breathless narration-on-camera
that tells her brother and her video “evidence” audience the tortured history of
this mirror, whose victims mutilate themselves and then kill before they
themselves are killed. That’s the dull part of “Oculus.”
The exciting stuff comes from Gillan’s Kaylie, brave, then and now,
trash-talking the mirror, touching its crack and purring, “I hope it still
And Sackhoff, of “Riddick” and TV’s “24”, makes the most of her motherly
descent from suspicion to paranoia to madness, selling this far-fetched fantasy,
start to finish. She renders this plausible.
It’s not a contest, but the guys are good, the women, to a one, much better
in this chiller. The effects are modest and effecting, the pacing not quite as
brisk as you’d like and the finale entirely too predictable in the Age of
Franchises. But “Oculus” earns its frights the old fashioned way — with
convincingly traumatized characters, with smoke and with mirrors.

MPAA Rating: R for terror, violence, some disturbing images
Cast: Karen Gillan, Katee Sackhoff, Annalise Basso, Brenton Thwaites, Rory
Cochrane, Garrett Ryan
Credits: Directed by Mike Flanagan, written by Jeff Howard and Mike Flanagan.
A Relativity/WWE Studios release.
Running time: 1:41

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5 Responses to Movie Review: “Oculus”

  1. Roger – love your reviews – agree with you most of the time. But I wonder why no one, to my knowledge, has pointed out that this film is a riff on the “Haunted Mirror” segment of DEAD OF NIGHT, the brilliant British 1945 omnibus horror film? Out of sight, out of mind?

    • The only critics who have seen “Dead of Night” are dead. Have you seen”Oculus”? I don’t think haunted/enchanted mirrors are unique to “Dead of Night.” Oh no. A certain famous French film of the same era comes to mind.

      • Wheeler Winston Dixon says:

        Wow – “before my time,” huh? Sorry – DEAD OF NIGHT is the definitive “haunted mirror” horror film, and as for the “have you seen Oculus?” — – yes, Orpheus is a great film, but then again, I guess all the critics who have seen that are dead too, right?

      • Perhaps you are writing for a different audience. A newspaper critic can’t be wasting words making comparisons to 60 year old films. That’s not my audience. And with horror, the demographics skew even younger. I get 500 words or so to say whether or not it works, what my readers might have seen that compares to it. And do all that on a short deadline. You appear to have more leisure and a lot more space to go into that. Good on you. “Dead of Night” is “definitive?” Maybe to you. Film scholars, dead and alive, prefer the French mirror.

  2. kbrown2225 says:

    I believe you are being a bit too kind regarding this film. The film starts off with an interesting and very scary premise and I agree that Kaylie’s prepartions for revenge against the mirror and her “trash-talking” seem to be setting up a scary and original supernatural thriller.

    Unfortunately, it gets bogged down in steadily deteriorating storytelling, confusing flashbacks and continuity errors, and finishes with a totally disappointing, unsatisfying, and hackneyed ending that ruins the film completely. We have seen this sort of similar, unoriginal ending in film after film and it makes the entire movie an exercise in futility.

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