I’ve been impressed of late with some of the offerings to come out of our favorite genre; filmmakers are wising up, in many cases looking for fear factor over body count, atmosphere over bloody exposition, and building suspense over jump scares. Now, don’t count me out just yet as a “bad” movie fan; I still enjoy blood, guts, and the occasional OH SHIT, popcorn-goes-flyin’ moment in fright films, but you all know as well as I do that certain aspects have been done to death (pardon the pun). Everywhere I turn, I hear people complaining about a film being “all gore and no scare” or “relies too much on the jumps”. As I’ve said before about horror films, it’s in your personal taste, and my tastes range from 1963’s The Haunting (no blood, no gore, no really seeing anything) to the much more recent Martyrs (the complete other end of the spectrum). However, I’m glad to see some modern films skipping the gag reflex and trying to tap that primal place in us that makes our skin crawl; films that are intelligent, and make us go beyond the typical practice of predicting which teen is gonna die in what order…
Oculus is a film that I think qualifies as one of these more cerebral (but just as scary) movies. The flick really surprised me; although I knew it was going to be something more in the vein of The Conjuring or Mama than The Orphan Killer or Saw, I didn’t expect it actually make me invest in it in such a thoughtful manner.
Tim is about to turn twenty-one years old, and he’s even more stoked than you’d expect. Y’see, Tim has made great progress at the mental facility he’s been at for the last eleven years, and he’s just been pronounced cured and is to be released on his big two-one. Waiting for him is his big sister Kaylie, two years older.
She’s wanting to help out her brother now that he’s a free, legally sane man, but first she wants him to fulfill a promise they made when they were children. It seems that when they were kids, their father murdered their mother, and only because Tim was able to get the gun and shoot his father did the siblings survive (hence his long stay in the mental hospital). However, that’s not how Kaylie remembers it: she recalls that the antique mirror that hung in her father’s office brought evil to their home, seduced their father, and caused all the tragedy in their lives. She’s used the last eleven years to painstakingly research the mirror and it’s dark past, and used her position as the fiancee of an auction house owner to obtain the tainted glass; now it hangs in their old home (back in the father’s old office, in fact). With high-tech video, alarm clocks, and a “kill switch” designed to ultimately destroy the mirror, she’s concoted a meticulous plan to first prove their father was under the mirror’s malicious influence and thus not culpable for his crime, and then to end the evil in the old glass forever. Having convinced himself while institutionalized that his “memories” of evil spirits were something he created to cover his childhood guilt, Tim sets about providing rational arguments to Kaylie’s convictions, desperately trying to get her to see that she needs the same kind of help he received to have a healthy and happy life. As the night goes on and brother and sister try to make sense of their memories and mental states, they find that there is some malignant force at work around them, and past and present rush forward on a irrevocable collision course…
Like I said above, this flick surprised me; it was well-written, cleverly directed, and smartly acted. Writer/director Mike Flanagan’s scripting and direction weave a very original and provocative narrative, building a palpable feeling of wrongness with chilling events and visceral turns; I won’t say there aren’t any jump scares, but they’re very minimal.
What really pulled me into the film was what I feel to be it’s primary genius; as the film moves along, we witness flashbacks to inform us of what happened to these people when they were kids. Moving near the climax, these flashbacks overlap with the present until it’s seeming that they’re occurring simultaneously; not since the original A Nightmare On Elm Street have I been so duped as to what is real, and what is memory…and I’m not sure there is a distinction. It almost seems to say that both paths, past and present, will end (and perhaps have always ended) in the same place; thought-provoking and well done.
As for the performances, Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites as the adult Kaylie and Tim were convincing with their passion in the roles, and the chemistry between them made belief in their family ties easy. Rory Cochrane (of CSI: Miami fame) and Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica, Haunting In Connecticut 2) round out the adult cast as the unfortunate mother and father of the kids, each respectively playing out slow burning madness and apeshit psychosis with enough rage to be fearsome, but also with enough emotion to be sympathetic. Finally, the children: Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan, as the young Kaylie and Tim, practically steal the film. These two are very convincing as siblings and in their portrayal of kids gradually growing terrified of the people they love most in the world; I was quite impressed.
Overall, I found Oculus very satisfying; it was an enjoyable, unpredictible time spent in front of the screen, and a pretty original twist on the “haunted” genre. I understand a lot of people were unhappy with the ending, but I think I know where Flanagan’s intentions were headed with it, and can’t say that I disagree with him. As I always say, there’ll be those of you that don’t dig this one, but I’m of the impression that a lot of you will.
You’ll have to see it for yourselves to make up your own minds on those points, Fellow Fans, and I recommend that you see this one so you can do so!
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