The 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