“Oculus” is a good, old-fashioned, haunted-mirror movie that gets the job done as a creepy, unsettling horror flick. What’s disappointing about it is that it actually had the potential to be something more than that.
Writer/director Mike Flanagan cranks the atmosphere up to 11 with this story of a brother and sister who return as adults to battle a supernatural force that destroyed their family when they were kids.
We first meet Tim (Brenton Thwaites) as he is being released from a mental institution, deemed fit to reenter society after recovering from an intense childhood trauma.
He is picked up by his sister Kaylie (Karen Gillan, who nerds everywhere will recognize as the good Doctor’s companion from several seasons of “Doctor Who”) who has tracked down and acquired the evil mirror she believes is responsible for turning their parents (Katee Sackhoff and Rory Cochrane) into murderous psychos.
Kaylie’s plan is to return with the mirror to their childhood home, document its supernatural powers with video equipment positioned around the house, and then destroy it.
Flanagan then nimbly begins to intercut Kaylie and Tim’s battle with the mirror with the events that transpired during their childhood (with their younger selves played by Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan).
“Oculus” opts not for buckets of blood, gore, and “gotcha” scares, and instead goes all-in with heavy amounts of dread, glowing-eyed specters, and disorientation as the boundaries between what’s real and what’s not become increasingly blurred.
There’s some good stuff here and genre fans should be pleased, but “Oculus” left a lot of good cards on the table.
Sanity is a big theme that runs through this movie and much of the first half of the film features Tim and Kaylie struggling to figure out if they are survivors of an evil, supernatural force, or the inheritors of a genetic psychosis.
This would have been a much more interesting and unnerving movie had Flanagan allowed this tension to play out until the very end instead of making a full pivot into supernatural horror.
“Oculus” does a good job of playing up the terror of losing your own touch with reality, or watching as a loved one loses theirs. After so successfully setting up this theme and teasing it out it’s almost a letdown to have it all explained away as the fault of an agenda-less bogeyman.
We all go a little crazy sometimes and it’s more unsettling when there are no haunted mirrors around to blame at all.
“Oculus” is rated R for terror, violence, some disturbing images, and brief language.