Oculus is an American horror film about a brother (Brenton Thwaites) and sister (Karen Gillan) who reunite to destroy the haunted mirror that took the lives of both their parents (Katee Sackhoff & Rory Cochrane) and resulted in the brother spending his childhood in an institute. While the siblings battle to destroy the mirror in their old family home the past and present mirror (PUN!) each other as their childhood counterparts (Annalise Basso & Garrett Ryan) battle the same mirror in the same house 11 years earlier.
The idea of a haunted mirror might sound a little silly but most horror synopses suffer a similar flaw and whether or not this leads to the film’s failure or not is all in the execution. Oculus works best when showing the mirror’s powers in a non-corporeal way. Let me explain… The mirror can alter a person’s perception of reality so when they are eating an apple they actually eat a light bulb or remove their fingernail thinking it is a plaster. Little moments like this are genuinely creepy and aren’t signposted in advance like most scares in a modern horror.
Scares work less well when we see a physical representation of the mirror’s evil which takes the form of slightly ill-looking people, actually dead, who have shiny eyes. At first they make you jump but the longer the camera lingers on an actor in makeup the more they start to look like an actor in makeup. For the most part though the film does it job of creepiness and scares well enough and I had to hide behind my hand on at least one occasion.
Also managed well are the transitions between the two eras. Actors from the past and present day will pass on the stairs or a scene will cut suddenly and grown-up Karen Gillan will be replaced by the much younger Annalise Basso. The effort put into these moments shows an extra nugget of consideration and helps raise the film a notch in quality and above the noise of low budget horrors coming out each week. The ending too should be praised for showing a real commitment to the premise and integrity of the plot over what an audience might want.
It has been a week now since I saw the film and this allows for Oculus to be put to a real test for any half decent horror; has it stayed with me? The answer is sadly no. While scary while I was watching the film easily slipped from my mind as soon as I stepped outside the cinema and my sleep hasn’t been troubled by the sight of a mirror from my bed. While enjoyable spooky Oculus is probably not going to be held up as a classic in years to come.
Slick direction and editing really make this film and the fact that the director (Mike Flanagan) resists the temptation to make a found footage film despite the presence of technology is a real saving grace. Oculus is good, not great, and should make for a nice distraction on a wet summer evening.