Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Oculus (2013)

I'll cut to the chase: this is a pretty pedestrian modern horror movie from Mike Flanagan. Which is surprising, given that he worked on Hush and Gerald's Game, both of which are far superior. At the risk of sounding like a snob, Oculus plays like a cash-in summer blockbuster: a hit with non-genre fans (those squares!) who fancy something scary, but a little too "horror by numbers" for anyone with a decent bit of experience.

Starring Karen Gillan (Doctor Who, Guardians of the Galaxy), Katee Sackhoff (Kara 'Starbuck' Thrace from Battlestar Galactica) and Rory Cochrane (the super stoned dude in Dazed and Confused), Oculus deals with family loss, and two siblings trying to overcome it. 

Unfortunately for her brother Tim (Brenton Thwaites), Kaylie (Gillan, sporting what I can only describe as a terrifying fringe) has become obsessed with proving that their father becoming a homicidal maniac 11 years ago was not your average psychotic break but in fact was due to a cursed mirror that hung in his office. She's managed to track it down and take possession, and she's invited Tim - himself fresh out of an institution for killing dad back then, in self defense - to come along and bear witness to the spooky goings on in their old house. What could possibly go wrong.

It's no more of a stretch than the average flick I suppose, but what doesn't help is Kaylie's general cold manner. She's an unlikeable lead character, and her odd rhythm of speech didn't do anything to warm me to her, either (I'd love to know if that was an actor or writer/director choice). We're to assume that her horrific family history affects her deeply, that she's never let go of the terrors she witnessed; yet I couldn't help but think this could've been played with more subtlety, rather than making her an obsessed robot. 

She reprimands Tim for his logical reading of those past events, telling him the doctors brainwashed him... because a killer mirror is so much more believable?! She's dismissive and withholding even to her fiance, too. It's no great tragedy when (spoilers) she kills him, because (a) we barely know the guy, and (b) she doesn't seem to have much of a connection to him anyway. Kaylie is a character born within this story to definitely die by the end of it, there's just nowhere else for her to go.

Additionally, most of the scares here are overworked and cheap. Creepy veiny people with weird eyes glide around the house, there's fingernail violence, and the old "accidentally killing someone who startles another character" plot twist. All of which do their job on a perfunctory level, but things never get any more interesting.

Anyone well versed in the genre will be able to call the majority of the eerie payoffs, they are signposted so blatantly - although the scene where Kaylie appears to bite into a lightbulb thinking it's an apple is one of the better moments here.

Flanagan is adept at fluidly transitioning the action between past and present. The young and older versions of the siblings all inhabit this space together, adding an otherworldly, untrustworthy quality to events happening within the house. Nothing is what it seems within the mirror's "sphere of influence", and this was definitely creepy... but only in a way that what I call the "Hotel California Effect"* always is.

NAILED IT. Full review here.

Oculus gets a 73% on Rotten Tomatoes, which kind of blows my mind.

It's on US Netflix now, but I'm pretty certain there are better choices you could make.

*This is when a character is trying to escape somewhere but the evil force at work manages to trap or loop them into always coming back. So named because my first memory of this eerie idea was from listening to the Eagles song 🎶 (sorry not sorry!).

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