Director: Mike Flanagan
Cast: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Katee Sackhoff, Rory Cochrance
Running time:103 mins
Release date: June 13th
Past and present come face-to-face in horror flick Oculus as Mike Flanagan explores themes of reflection, liminality and creeping evil. The director has adapted his short film into a feature, but the finished product falls short of going the distance.
When Tim Russell (Brenton Thwaites) walks out the door of a mental facility having been cleared for release, he looks ready to start afresh. The young man had been incarcerated years earlier for his part in the violent deaths of his parents, although what exactly went down is not clear. But his older sister Kaylie (Karen Gillan) is not so ready to move on.
She is adamant that an antique mirror in the former family home was responsible for the deaths of her parents, and is intent on enlisting her little bro to help destroy the mirror and prove that there were unexplained forces at work when the tragedy occurred. Tim, however, has spent years ridding himself of any notions of supernatural influences. Having come to terms with his own culpability, he is reluctant to indulge her in hocus-pocus-based mission. But his sister has him knee-deep in her crusade before he knows it, and it is not long before things begin to get freaky.
In terms of narrative structure, Flanagan takes us back and forth through time. Flashbacks to the period leading up to the siblings’ parents’ deaths are used to give a greater understanding of what is happening in the present. Dad Alan (Rory Cochrane) seems distracted and preoccupied with work, while mum Marie (Katee Sackhoff) is focused on getting the family settled into their new home. Both undergo a disintegration of their mental states, and this part of the story would make for an interesting film in its own right.
As for fright value, the director flexes his muscles through his inventiveness. There are no fancy effects here yet his clever use of sound and lighting create a palpable sense of tension, while he employs the element of surprise adroitly to provide some much-needed jolts.
But all this is negated by the inherent structural faults. Oculus starts promisingly, and the first third whets the appetite sufficiently before things begin to unravel midway through. There is a scene where Kaylie sets up multiple cameras in the house to record the strange goings-on supposedly instigated by the mirror. What follows is a back-and-forth debate between herself and Tim, the latter espousing a rational outlook and she a supernatural one. It is painfully contrived and the actors are incapable of making it seem less so.
The plot descends into silliness in the final third as it becomes increasingly confusing. This lack of clarity is a direct by-product of the decision to withhold information earlier on in a bid to pique the viewer’s curiosity, which unfortunately has soured by the time the film enters the home straight.
At first glance, the most perplexing thing about Oculus is the fact that it is all about a magic mirror. Flanagan has admitted that a looking glass is ‘not the most intuitive of movie monsters’, but his problems run deeper than that. There are scares aplenty throughout, yet the suspension of disbelief required to take a magic mirror film seriously in the first place fails to hold in the face of plot development that becomes increasingly erratic as events unfold.