Sunday, April 20, 2014


"Oculus" is a movie I watched for two reasons, neither of which are exactly professional.  The first is that that this is the major motion picture debut of Karen Gillan, TV's Amy Pond, the cute Scottish companion to Matt Smith's Eleventh Doctor.  I may be many things, but a disloyal "Doctor Who" fan is not one of them.  The second and more petty reason is that "Oculus" has been produced by a company known as Blumhouse Productions, AKA, "BH Productions".  Wait a minute, BH?  That sounds familiar, doesn't it?  Why of course, my favorite element, Bohrium, goes by the symbol "Bh".  BH Productions, how dare you trample on the memory of Danish physicist, Niels Bohr!  I'll that as a personal challenge!!

Okay, to be more serious, "Oculus" is a decent horror film, which I am always depressed to point out, is a very rare thing in this century.  Maybe the old fads of endless remakes and miserable found-footage "Paranormal Activity" wanna-bes have finally ended and horror directors have found a new fad, one started by last year's "The Conjuring", which is to make good horror movies.  You know, films that are actually scary, starring sympathetic characters, and relying upon mood and tone to create their scares, not gimmicks.  I know it is a radical change since Hollywood has grown comfortable making crap horror for most of this century, but "Oculus" is a nice little horror movie, with a basic enough premise that makes this sort of creepy fun seem completely effortless.

"Oculus"'s plotline can be viewed as a mash-up of several Stephen King novels and stories.  Clearly a lot of inspiration for the attitude of the evil towards the heroes, and the brilliant horror build-up is very King-like.  The structure is like that of "It", where the heroes who defeated an evil being in their childhood must come back again and defeat it finally in their adulthood.  Only instead of a killer clown (that is really a spider) the demonic force is a haunted mirror with powers to tamper with reality and distort the characters' minds, similar to the chilling short story, "1408"*.  During the past storyline, the children must watch as the mirror breaks their parents, turning their father into Jack Torrence from "The Shining".  The past and present storylines are interlinked, increasingly so as the characters go more and more insane.  The mirror distorts everything in the film, until all it is impossible to tell what is reality and what is illusion, and the characters are helpless victims in a mad storm.  With all of universe seemingly bending to the mirror's wicked will, can their be any of escape?

For a movie with a goofy concept about, of all things, a malevolent mirror, "Oculus" is surprisingly well-acted and well-made.  Karen Gillan is adorable as always as Adult Kaylie with a slightly forced but convincing American accent.  The children's mother is played by none other than Katie Sackoff, a major player from another one of my favorite SciFi television programs, "Battlestar Galactica".  Starbuck pulls together an intense, oddly willful performance when her job should really just be weeping and going insane, a la Wendy Torrence.  Katie Sackoff seems to be one of those actresses who have spent their entire careers doing - let me just say it - crap**, and the chance to appear in a major motion picture, even a B-movie like this, is enough to get her motivated to pull through great acting.  Rory Cochraine as Alan, the father, is more of a perfunctory player, but still decent for his job.  The children, Annalise Brasso and Garrett Ryan, are both good at being scared and hiding from the monsters, which is really all they need to do.

Amy attempts to defeat evil without a Sonic Screwdriver. To less effective results.
If there's a problem with the cast it comes from the nominal main character, Tim.  He's played by Brenton Thwaites, who appears to be Hollywood's newest failed attempt at creating a major star.  Thwaites is going to play Prince Phillip in next month's "Maleficent" and then will star in "The Giver", the male rip-off of "The Hunger Games".  Perhaps this kid has some untapped charisma that was somehow lost in "Oculus", but I'm already starting to dread those films if he's going to be a major part of them.  Tim's major role in this film is to be the sane rational part of the team, ironically beginning the film getting released from a mental institution after a decade of therapy.  All of his therapy has convinced Tim that the haunted mirror he and his sister experienced was actually a shared delusion created to protect them from the hard truth that their father was just a plain old non-supernatural maniac.  So Tim spends the first hour doubting everything about the mirror and playing a very weak gender reversed Agent Scully to Kaylie's Agent Mulder.

And as you'd know if you've ever seen an episode of the "X-Files", Agent Scully is always wrong.  The rational explanation never worked out, it was always aliens, or in a weird episode, a liver-eating cannibal mutant, or in this case, an eldritch looking-glass.  Tim's arguments about delusions and pop psychiatry really only slow the movie down - because without a haunting, really there is no plot.  Meanwhile Karen Gillan is completely committed to her obsession with the evil ornament.  She's turned their childhood home into an elaborate paranormal documentary, with video cameras on the walls, plants and small animals to measure the corrosive powers of the mirror.  Why doesn't she simply destroy the object?  Well, partially it is because the mirror infects everybody around it as a defense mechanism, but mostly she wants to prove her father was not insane, and that the mirror is the Truth that is Out There. She's so enthusiastic to see the effects of the mirror's madness, basically having a fangirl moment when she's discovered that the mirror has made herself and Tim act beyond their will.  Then there's Tim, who is just a wet blanket to the party, totally spoiling the fun.

Yes, that is Karen Gillan in a nightgown.  You're welcome, America.
To be fair most of the first act of "Oculus" is somewhat underplayed.  Until Tim finally gives up his silly pretenses of sanity, most the chaos only happens in the Past Timeline.  The Dad secludes himself in his study, locked up with the mirror, typing away at his novel or something.  Then the mirror decides that's not possibly scary enough, it has the father tear out his fingernails with a staple remover.  The Mom starves herself and obsesses over a delusion that her husband is cheating on her... WITH A MIRROR DEMON!  

Okay, the disco eyeball ghosts are a pretty ineffective scare, bu the rest of "Oculus" is pretty strong supernatural mindbending horror.  At one point as the mirror begins properly fucking with the Adult Timeline victims, including a fantastic use of a lightbulb as a hand fruit.  The characters are shown time and time again that their senses are untrustworthy.  The mirror can control cellphone calls, the characters can be made to believe they've gone outside when they're really standing in front of the monster.  Then the timelines seem to merge together in one of the clever of the gonzo scares, as the main characters walk right past their child self.  It isn't quite so much a scare that makes you jump, it is simply an unsettling subtle detail that expands the mood.  Just like the characters themselves have lost all sense of place and time, the audience has too.

Really "Oculus" is the kind of horror movie that is certainly not without its flaws, but it manages to get right the most important part:  suspense.  It is a very freaky experience not because of any one particular scare or monster (if anything, the Disco Eyeball Ghosts are lame) but because of a completely insane tone that grows more and more out of control.  It starts slow, one of the main characters is a let-down, and the finale is telegraphed about eight-hundred times to the point it is massively disappointing, but the parts that work happen to function so well that you will be properly afraid.  "Oculus" is the kind of horror film that leaves you feeling thoroughly unglued from the rest of reality.  You step out of the theater with the strange sense that the real world is somehow more artificial and manufactured than the fictional story you've seen projected against a 2D gray screen.

Because it is all an illusion.  You're still in the house, you're still standing right in front of the mirror.  The mirror controls all.  The mirror is life.  Welcome to the new flesh... the mirror flesh.

* And I suppose, also similar to the mediocre John Cuscak movie based on the story, "1408".  I would not recommend seeing the film, but the story is one of the best things King has ever written - unlike most of his work it isn't ten thousand pages long, so it gets the scary bits out with a bullet.

** I just realized "Battlestar Galactica" ended in 2009, five years ago.  What has Katie Sackoff done with her time since?  A crappy show called "Longmire" and a crappier Riddick movie.  Poor girl.


  1. ....So, by directing Saw James Wan helped screw over Hollywood horrors (although I kinda liked the first one, fuck the rest however), and now he directs the Conjuring which ironically reverses that damage. Small world we live in.

    On a side note, I've been considering establishing some small forum or chatroom for appreciators of D'arkYagam'i and I wonder if you'd be willing to join, as I don't think I know many people I can gather for such a cause. I'm also open to suggestions as to how it should be made since I don't really know how. Personally my intent is to gather a small council known as the Successors of D'arkYagam'i who can spread his work wide enough to revolutionize literature as we know it.

    Awaiting your response,

    TorgoForever aka D'arkTorgam'i

  2. I actually enjoyed the first half of the movie when Tim was trying to argue that the mirror isn't evil and that daddy and mommy were paranoid psychopaths. He made some convincing arguments and there were a few times I thought the movie was just screwing with us about the supernatural parts. Then that's when everything went to hell and I was a mind fuck ride of a lifetime. A great movie that made me fear mirrors for a week.

    Also Catherine Tate, aka Donna Noble, is the best companion. I stand by my statement.

  3. I'm pretty sure that "The Giver" came before "The Hunger Games", which means that if anything, "The Hunger Games" would be a female ripoff of "The Giver".