“Oculus is respectably self-aware of its genre and looks to improve on an already tried and tested formula”
by Matt Allen
Cast: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Katee Sackhoff, Rory Cochrane, Annalise Basso, Garrett Ryan
Director(s): Mike Flanagan
Screen Writer(s): Jeff Howard, Mike Flanagan
Running Time: 104 minutes
Having had its world premiere back in September 2013 at the Toronto Film festival, Mike Flanagan’s horror – based upon his earlier short film – finally made it to wide release in the US in April 2014. Finally, it’s made it over to the UK this week, but has it been worth the wait?
After being released from the mental institution to which he was committed as a boy following his parents’ grisly murder, Tim (Thwaites) is dragged into his sister’s bizarre experiment to prove that their childhood trauma was caused by a haunted mirror.
The premise might sound all too familiar but, to the film’s credit, Oculus is respectfully self-aware of its genre and looks to improve on an already tried and tested formula. The film that you might expect to see – vengeful spirit influences loving father to turn on his family – has already happened. By the time we catch up with the film in the present day, it instead confronts the notion of perception and asks ‘how well can we trust our own memory?’
In an interesting turn, it’s actually Tim, recently released from psychiatric care, who fills the role of the skeptic. After years of therapeutic treatment he’s learned to ignore the supernatural and look for explanations grounded in logic. His sister Kaylie (Gillan) on the other hand has spent her formative years obsessing over the relic she holds responsible for her father’s madness.
Kaylie’s pragmatic approach to engaging the relic in the hope of capturing evidence of its malicious nature on film is refreshingly diligent and even includes a kill switch – a sort of dead man’s pedal – that will destroy the ghoulish looking-glass in the event things get out of hand. Other ingenious precautions come in the form of potted plants distributed around the house, the withering of which acts as a method of gauging the malevolent mirror’s “radius of influence”.
Disappointingly, the creep factor remains fairly low throughout. Don’t expect anything revolutionary in the decayed design of the manifest victims of the haunted ‘Lasser Glass’. A barely visible figure in a dark hallway here, a mutilated woman driven to pulling all her teeth out there; a lot of this is text book stuff, right down to the inexplicable power of wooden doors to keep out all manner of assailants. But, while the ghouls may be familiar, the past/present narrative device is employed to engaging effect and signs off with a satisfying crunch.
By no means perfect and at times a little cliché, but top marks for attention to detail and storytelling so effective you may find yourself gazing into the glass of your telly long after the credits stop rolling. Writer/director Mike Flanagan has proved he is certainly one to watch.