Oculus – 2014

Director Mike Flanagan
Starring Karen Gillan, Brendan Thwaites, Rory Cochrane, Katee Sackoff
Screenplay Flanagan and Jeff Howard

Oculus is a good little story whose conceit is that it can change the perspective of anyone onscreen to match whatever it needs for the moment. Shame of it is, its characters start out with the semblance of hope into what we all know is a hopeless situation.  Mike Flanagan and Jeff Howard estimate that the audience will not notice the manipulation into what is essentially a warm up for Oculus 2, or Oculi, as I would like to refer to it.

Kaylie Russell (Gillan) is a woman on a mission.  Eleven years earlier, She and her brother Tim (Thwaites) barely survived an attack by a spirit in a haunted mirror, which claimed the lives of their father and mother. How they did this is the most interesting part of the film, but Flanagan decides to get to that later…sort of.  Now an adult, Russell has researched the history of this mirror, and placed herself in the position to get the mirror for a weekend.  Her brother, meanwhile has been discharged from a mental institution, where he has learned to take responsibility for what happened to her parents and to deny the existence of the supernatural.

We wouldn’t have a movie if Tim resisted Kaylie’s invitation to have a final confrontation with the mirror in trying to break its curse. Having arranged to have the mirror delivered to their old home, and jury rigged the home with a bunch of fail safe measures designed to discover what really happened and break the power of the mirror, Kaylie thinks she’s got everything in hand. Tim, meanwhile, provides the counterpoint, needing to be convinced, while backing her up. What could go wrong?

The scenes from our protagonists jump back and forth between what happened to them as children and what is happening to them now. As the movie wears on, it becomes apparent that the kid version of the equation fared better than the older and presumably wiser adult version. Part of the reason for this is the mirror knows the characters as well as they think they know it. The vantage of the viewer to both timelines begins to adjust to the manipulation that the mirror provides.  Most audiences will catch onto this fairly quickly, though.  This results in the film losing steam quite quickly towards the end, as we wait out the inevitable push to a sequel.

The acting in this film is a cut above what one would expect for its kind. Gillan, a veteran of Dr. Who, provides energy to override her folly. Cochrane and Sackhoff have a manic energy between them that gives the film some stirring imagery. It would seem Sackhoff is destined to spend the rest of her career playing in horror while waiting for another BSG special. At least she gives each performance everything she’s got, whether it’s this film or that Haunting of Connecticut movie that takes place in Georgia.

The best aspect of Oculus is watching the history of the mirror.  Seeing seemingly random spooks is one thing, but finding out that they used to be unsuspecting folks through Kaylie’s narration and pictures adds a level of spook that brings one back to Ghost Story, or more recently, Sinister. It’s this element that makes the film feel scary, more than any amount of improbable manipulation.

(***1/2 out of *****)

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