Over the past few years horror movies have been going through a lot of changes. They have been taking a big step back from big budget gore and instead focusing on smart, character driven storylines to get the scares. Oculus is a movie that falls into that latter category, a feature length movie derived from a critically acclaimed short film. The short was originally scribed and directed by Mike Flanagan and Jeff Seidman, Flanagan now brings that original brilliance to a big screen feature.
The base story is simple enough, normal suburban family moves into a new home. Mix in an evil force or two, things go bump in the night, and cut. Where Oculus sets itself apart from the rest of the pack is in the way that it tells this type of story. It centers around the Lasser Glass and the morbid events that have befallen each of its owners.
Very quickly we are thrust into the tale through a bold interweaving of past and present day events. The movie begins with our two main characters Kaylie (Karen Gillan) and Tim Russell (Brenton Thwaites), frantically trying to escape their home as a yet unknown assailant is in pursuit of them. From the very first moment you are left breathless, and in a mild state of confusion as you try to grasp what is happening and why. As we cut to the present, we find that these two children have grown to lead very separate lives. Tim has spent the last 10 years trying to come to terms with the tragic events of that night. While Kaylie has spent that same time creating a plan to exonerate the names of her mother, father by proving it was caused by a supernatural entity
As the tale goes, the Lasser glass enhances and feeds upon your greatest insecurities. Very quickly, it drives anyone mad who comes into contact with it for any significant amount of time. It bends reality, and brings into question every thought and action you believe may have occurred. As the viewer we experience the rapid and brutal deterioration of Marie and Alan Russell (Katie Sackhoff and Rory Cochrane) as they lose all grip with reality and are completely consumed by the Lasser Glass. As we cut in and out of timelines we find that Kaylie has spent years developing a full proof plan to either expose the mirror for what it is or to destroy it in the process.
The casting was superb, Sackhoff and Cochrane play the crazed parents with vigor. There is a scene in particular where Cochran is standing at the door talking to a neighbor with an eerie calm, all the while holding his bloodied hand on the inside of the door frame. Much of Gillan’s performance can be ripped right out of an episode of Dr. Who, the entire time watching the film I was reminded of The Angels take Manhattan. For myself it was very apparent early on that Flanagan was a Dr. Who fan, and had written this part specifically for Gillan. I later learned this to be correct, and in fact Flanagan showed up in a Dr. Who shirt while trying to cast Gillan for the role. I don’t say that in order to degrade her performance in anyway, but to show that she’s already had a nice practice run in this type of horror genre.
I would call myself desensitized when it comes to most horror, but Oculus had me gripping my seat and startled me plenty of times. It is a movie that set’s itself up for the possibility of sequels, but in no way handcuffs its storyline in order to make this happen. The history of the mirror has me intrigued, learning more about it’s history in a prequel or a sequel would be a welcome event. Once it’s out for rental I may even be able to convince my wife to be in the same room with me as I watch it again, I hope each of you enjoys it as much as I did, as a movie with a clever premise and excellent execution on a modest budget. Oculus opens in theaters everywhere April 11th.
[Editor’s Note] You may enjoy this interview with Katee Sackhoff and the stars of Oculus!