Directed by: Mike Flanagan
R. 105 mins
With an unforgettably unique style, Oculus offers genre-devotees a fresh, unique trip down the rabbit hole, utilizing the reliably cringe-worthy themes of such reality-bending classics as The Shining.
Ten years ago, tragedy struck the Russell family, leaving the lives of teenage siblings Tim (Brenton Thwaites) and Kaylie (Karen Gillan) forever changed after Tim was convicted of the brutal murder of their parents. Now in his 20s, Tim is released from protective custody and desperately yearns to move on from the past; but Kaylie, still haunted by that night, is convinced her parents’ deaths were caused by something else altogether: a malevolent supernatural force unleashed through the Lasser Glass, an antique mirror in their childhood home. Determined to prove her brother’s innocence, Kaylie tracks down the mirror, only to learn similar deaths have befallen previous owners over the past century. With the mysterious entity now back in their hands, Tim and Kaylie struggle to destroy the mirror and soon find their grasp on reality slipping as they experience terrifying hallucinations that blur the line between science and supernatural, past and present, fact and fiction.
At its core, the film is about perception and memory – specifically, how easily those things can be manipulated. The first half of the film explores this idea with all sorts of talk and very little scares, while the second half of the film doesn’t just talk about memories, but in fact goes back and forth between the past and present, blending the two so seamlessly that it becomes disorienting for both the characters and the audience to discern the truth. What makes the film so compelling is a remarkably complex script, paired with a particularly convincing performance by Gillan, whose manic focus convinces us that these are ideas worth exploring. Perhaps the small crack in the film lies in the fact that ultimately, there isn’t much to learn outside of that fact that the Lasser Glass is home to a diabolical spirit. We learn so much about the Russell family and we feel for their plight, but after all the development both narratively and visually, the film ends in an almost anticlimactic way that some may find typical of so many other horror films – and one that screams for a sequel.
Nonetheless, Oculus can join the ranks of such recent successes as The Conjuring, thanks to director Mike Flanagan’s confidence and commitment to finding new ways to spook jaded audiences. Flanagan understands that, no matter the premise, horror movies succeed when the main characters are worth caring about. It’s a ghost story, a mystery, and even layered with a palpable sadness – Oculus proves once more that the most powerful ghosts are the ones in our head, not on screen. Disorienting, stylish and spooky, it’s just short of being a classic.