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.|
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.|
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.
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.