ActorsStarring: Katee Sackhoff, Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, James Lafferty, Rory Cochrane, Kate Siegel, Garrett Ryan, Katie Parker, Miguel Sandoval, Annalise Basso
A woman tries to exonerate her brother's murder conviction by proving that the crime was committed by a supernatural phenomenon.
Sometimes, films don’t have to be provocative, or prove a point, or leave you pondering on their meaning for days afterwards. Sometimes, you just want a film to fulfil it’s purpose and nothing more-whether that’s to make you laugh, to make you cry, or, in the case of Oculus, to scare the living daylights out of you.
Yup, Oculus, the supernatural thriller released last year, might not be the kind of film that lingers in your mind, but it’s packed with moments to have you nervously checking the bathroom mirror-or, rather, just throwing out every mirror in your house, because those things can only cause trouble.
The plot revolves around a pair of siblings, Kaylie and Tim, who are forced to watch their parents driven to the point of homicidal insanity by a mysterious mirror. After Tim winds up in a psychiatric hospital after the event, Kaylie decides that she will destroy the mirror at any cost, with the sibling’s experience as kids and their experience as adults running side by side as the film moves towards a predictable but satisfying ending.
I think the biggest strength on show in Oculus is how well the director, Mike Flanagan, understands the trope of the haunted *insert item here* sub-genre. He obviously knows that he can’t avoid every single one, but by running the two stories side by side, with each informing the other, gives the plot a choppy, disorientating feel- as both timelines overlap more and more, that uncomfortable sense of not being able to get a foothold makes up for any bad-dream-jump-scares that pepper the movie. The exposition is expertly worked in, and before you can get your footing you’re thoroughly invested in a movie that’s actually pretty predictable when you think about it. Oculus was based off an earlier short film that Flanagan directed, and it’s clear that the story and the style has had some time to gestate, with a real sense of polish throughout. Strong production values give Oculus the automatic box-tick of looking like a really great movie, and interesting direction keeps it visually interesting.
But the real stars of this show are the performances. Karen Gillan as the older Kaylie is the standout, any memories of her stint on family show Doctor Who long forgotten with a precise, neurotic, obsessive performance that borders on disturbing. The inimitable Katee Sackhoff, in what acts as a mirror image to Gillan’s performance, delivers a powerful and moving bit of character work in the few scenes we have with her, and the male members of the main cast both do a great job as the uneasy, theoretically sane counterparts to their female co-stars.
It’s not going to change the face of the horror industry, but Oculus is still a slickly made, appropriately scary performance in tension-building. It’s a perfect example of horror not having to be boundary-pushing to be really entertaining and competently made, and other filmmakers aiming to do something similar should take some serious notes.