Oculus (2013) ☆☆☆(3/4) : A family matter with one sinister mirror

oculus01 “Oculus” did a fairly good job of building the sense of dread around one sinister object which turns out to a lot more dangerous and diabolical than we expected. While there are a few moments for shocks, the movie disturbs us mainly through its ominous mood virtually telling us something bad is going to happen sooner or later, and then we are thrown into the nightmarish climax in which its main characters cannot possibly trust what they see or feel amid their confusing terror. We begin to fear for them, and then we get some dreadful idea about what will happen in the end.

At the beginning, we get some brief information about what happened to Tim(Brenton Thwaites) and Kaylie(Karen Gillan) and their parents 11 years ago. Their father suddenly went crazy for some unknown reason, and, after killing his dear wife, he also tried to kill young Tim and Kaylie, who luckily survive because, as far as Tim remembers, he managed to shoot his father to death.

Kaylie and Tim have been separated from each other since that horrible tragedy, and Tim has struggled to process what happened during that terrible night. When we see him having a brief conversation with his therapist Dr. Graham(Miguel Sandoval) right before his discharge from the mental hospital, he still seems to be haunted by his traumatic experience in the past, but he sort of begins to accept a realistic(and official) explanation of why his dad committed such an atrocious thing to his family, and he thinks he is ready to move on with his life.

However, Kaylie has a different idea on how they should free themselves from the past. She has been obsessed with an antique mirror which was hung on the wall in her father’s office room during that time, and she wants to prove to others that the mirror was really responsible for their family tragedy. As she explains in front of her video camera during one scene, the mirror in question has a long history of very unpleasant incidents involved with its previous owners, and she firmly believes that their parents were its latest victims. Considering how many shocking happenings, including a woman unintentionally drowning her children and a fat guy hanging himself after losing lots of weight, have happened around the mirror for more than 100 years, it is rather amazing that it draws no particular attention when it is presented at some respectable auction place where Kaylie works, but this provides a very good chance for her. After it is sold(I wonder who bought that), it is put into the storehouse for a while, and Kaylie takes it to their old family house, while lying to others that it needs some repair job.

oculus03 The mirror is put back to where it was in her father’s room 11 years ago, and we see how she has carefully planned to prove its evil force and then destroy it once for all. While the room is brightly lit, she sets two digital video cameras respectively connected with two separate desktop computers, which will help detecting and recording anything strange or weird. Room temperature is constantly monitored just in case, and plant pots are placed around the house as a sort of litmus paper for evil influence, and there is also a nice emergency measure which will be her last card in this confrontation.

Nobody will say she is not prepared well for what she will go into, but she is not that wise in case of choosing someone to help her. As soon as her brother gets out of the hospital, Kaylie takes Tim to their former residence in spite of his visible reluctance. I think there are many other ways more sensible and secure than having a mentally vulnerable guy as your only partner in the investigation of something paranormal, but blood is thicker than water, isn’t it?

As Tim and Kaylie argue with each other on what really happened to them, some of you may begin to wonder whether the mirror is really evil as Kaylie claims, but there is no doubt about that, because 1) the heavy bass sound on the soundtrack keeps reminding you of the presence of something sinister, 2) the movie makes no secret about the evil power of the mirror even before Kaylie takes it to the house, and 3) the main story is frequently intercut with the flashback part showing how Tim and Kaylie and their parents happily moved into the house and then gradually came under the evil influence from the mirror.

The director/co-screenplay writer Mike Flanagan made a solid horror movie out of a simple but nice premise from his short film “Oculus: Chapter 3 – The Man with the Plan”, and there are good scenes built upon mood and suspense. Still feeling unstable even after 11 years, Tim sometimes sees the things remembered from the past, and Kaylie also begins to lose her initial confidence while facing the possibility that the mirror is far more formidable than she has ever imagined. It turns out that the mirror is capable of manipulating their minds and perceptions, and there is a quiet but cringe-inducing moment when Kaylie realizes to her horror that she has just bitten something which is not an apple she held a few seconds before.

oculus04Once it is quite clear that Kaylie and Tim are trapped in the house by the mirror, the movie shifts its gear into full horror mode, and we get a mind-bending sequence in which past and present are mixed and linked together on the screen as the characters trying to find any way to save themselves. This is rather confusing and I lost my attention at times, but it is an effective climax, and it is a shame that the movie finishes this labyrinthal moment with its contrived ending which feels too much like a cheap exit.

The performances are as good as you can expect from a competent horror film. Karen Gillan is commendable as a feisty heroine determined to settle the old score with her own Moby Dick, and Brenton Thwaites, whom I recently saw in “Maleficent”(2014), is a good counterpart to his co-actress in their scenes. Annalise Basso, Garrett Ryan, Rory Cochrane, and Katee Sackhoff are believable in the flashback scenes in the film, and their descent into malevolence and madness is disturbing enough to hold our attention, even though their final destination is evident from the start.

“Oculus” did as much as the people behind it hoped, and that is fine with me. The only reason I give this film 3 stars is that I grumbled less than when I watched “The Conjuring”, and that reminds me of how infrequently I have been scared by recent horror films nowadays. Some great horror films still can scare or frighten me regardless of their age, and “Oculus” looks trivial in comparison, but I think you can give it a try – if there is not any good scary film to watch besides that right now.

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One Response to Oculus (2013) ☆☆☆(3/4) : A family matter with one sinister mirror

  1. S M Rana says:

    Horror binds us with its unnatural power–Baby Jane and Silence of Lambs are burnt in my memory–I dare not allow my mind to shaken to another….

    SC: I doubt whether this little film can affect you much like that.

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