What is real? What is illusion? What can you trust when your own senses lie to you? These are the fears that Oculus preys upon. A horror film with some great scares, an interesting premise, and a chilling story, told in a mix of flashback and present day action. Whilst some of the features – such as the credits – look a little amateur, if you’re one for being sat on the edge of your seat biting your nails, Oculus isn’t one that you want to miss.
We’ve all had that feeling of doing something, then going back and checking you've done it, or not being sure if something that happened, has actually happened. It’s the acknowledgement of these feelings that everyone has that separates Oculus from the others in the Supernatural Horror genre – a market that has become saturated in the past decade with titles such as Insidious, Drag Me To Hell and The Last Exorcism – to name a few. In playing on something that audiences already experience, Oculus manages to have them (or at least me) questioning myself far more.
Karen Gillan leads as Kaylie Russell, whose brother Tim (Brenton Thwaites) was incarcerated for the murder of their father eleven years ago. Kaylie is convinced that their old mirror was responsible for the actions of not only her brother, but also her father, who had just killed their mother. Setting up a number of precautions and video cameras in the room with the mirror in an attempt to prove the existence of the supernatural force that lives in the mirror, she performs a series of tests in order to try and draw the entity out.
The plot jumps backwards and forwards, between what’s happening now, and what happened eleven years ago. We only get told the first time that this jump occurs, so this gets a little confusing at times, but once you work out the structure, it becomes much simpler, and actually more effective, as it allows both storylines to reach their intense climax at the same time. The jumps become more frequent towards the end, and begin to intertwine, as the mirror causes illusions left, right and centre. When you have multiple versions of all four characters (Kaylie and Tim’s older and younger selves) running around at the same time, even the audience begins to question what is real.
The film does slip up near the beginning though, revealing one of the spooky ghoul-like apparitions within the first minute of the film, rather than having the build up before the terrifying reveal. It’s only a short glimpse, so it’s clear what writer/director Mike Flanagan is trying to do, but giving us a full look at what we’re going to be scared of does diffuse the tension a little, and makes the eventual appearance of the ghouls less frightening than it could have been.
Furthermore, Kaylie isn’t very likeable as a central character. She’s cold, calculating, and doesn’t seem to care at all about her brother, who has just been released from a mental facility that convinced him that the mirror isn’t evil, it was his father. A mere day after his release, she throws him back into it all. Even as a child she seems bratty and annoying, but at least she cares about her brother there. This is no reflection of the actors’ performances. Gillan performs well, delivering a pretty convincing American accent, it’s just how the characters are written.
Oculus is a great horror film. Twisting fears and feelings that we have already experienced and creating something that can manipulate our senses, it will have you questioning what is real. But only if you can look past a few plot conveniences (such as the way that her brother is released on the same day she gets the mirror so he’s there to help her carry it into the house – a task that she wouldn’t have been able to do alone), and an ending that is climactic, intense and definitely scary, yet a little unfulfilling .
Oculus is definitely about the journey, rather than the destination, and one that I would highly recommend to any fan of psychological or supernatural horror. Of course, maybe it was terrible, but the mirror on my wall wanted me to see a good movie. Who knows…?