VOD film review: Oculus
Ivan Radford | On 06, Oct 2014
Director: Mike Flanagan
Cast: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Katee Sackhoff, Rory Cochrane
Watch Oculus online in the UK: Amazon Prime / TalkTalk TV / iTunes / Rakuten TV / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
Oculus is a film about an evil mirror. No, wait. Don’t go away. It’s better than it sounds.
That’s a big problem with star ratings and reviews. This film will get 7 out of 10. Like all those other 7-out-of-10 horror movies out there, it has some strong, spooky ideas, but something’s wrong with it. But what that surface score doesn’t take into account is originality. And Oculus has that in bucket-loads. It may have problems with the way it executes its idea, but the idea itself is way better than so many other horror films out there.
Yes, we’re still talking about the evil mirror.
Oculus starts with the nightmares of Tim (Brenton Thwaites), who keeps remembering some scary stuff (read: evil mirror) that went down when he was a kid. The kind of scary stuff that ended with him killing his dad, Alan (Rory Cochrane). Fast forward 15 years and Tim’s coming out of hospital having realised that he was actually hysterical all along. An evil mirror? Yeah, right. Enter Karen Gillan as his sister, Kaylie, who knows better.
“You promised you wouldn’t forget what happened that night,” she says to her brother, pausing dramatically. “I know,” he replies, equally dramatically. That’s where Oculus starts to crack: the dialogue. People are forever saying silly things, stating the obvious for everyone in the audience.
The images, though, couldn’t be smarter. Locked inside a home rigged to prove the mirror is bad and then destroy it, Tim and Kayleigh find their reflections and memories warped through the looking glass. They see themselves doing things they’re not or repeatedly glimpse their younger selves (played by the excellent Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan with a convincing level of fear). Karen Gillan, channeling the hyper charm of her Doctor Who days, is eminently watchable as the eager debunker, determined to disprove Brenton’s therapy is hogwash. Brenton Thwaites, meanwhile, does dissipating calm with a believable tremor.
Ghostbusters meets Home Alone? It’s a neat set-up, our duo surrounded by gizmos and lights to prove that the supernatural really does exist – and director Mike Flanagan wastes no time in getting every last scare out of it. Folding the young and old narratives together, he crafts a freaky flapping bird from his script, pushing Katee Sackhoff’s desperate mother and Bob Cochrane’s duped dad down the crazy path as he pushes Tim back up it.
Throughout, the two narratives overlap, walking in on each other or passing in the hallways like a bedroom farce – except instead of laughing and losing your trousers, you find yourself biting your nails and changing your pants. That carefully edited structure is where the unsettling atmosphere comes from; not from cheap jumps but clever storytelling. The choreography is flawless, precisely disorienting and hypnotically intricate, backed up by strong effects, eerie make-up and no end of smart camera tricks.
But then these people, running around their haunted Home Alone, stop to speak – and say some of the dumbest things imaginable. “The mirror made me do it!” shouts Tim as the police arrive at the house. And for a second you realise how ridiculous the whole thing is. But while other films might find that enough to shatter the whole illusion, Oculus’ originality proves tough to break. It’s a film about an evil mirror. And as films about evil mirrors go, it’s a darn spooky one.
Oculus is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.