Saturday, April 12, 2014

Mirror Mirror: “Oculus” is a Decent and Disturbing Thriller

The evil mirror thriller “Oculus” (which actually bears little resemblance to the 2008 thriller "Mirrors") attempts to do something that many modern horror films never really do. It tells two stories at the same time while using the classic cinema narrative trick known as “cross-cutting.” Sure this isn’t exactly “The Godfather Part II” but I admire the film’s attempts to take a stale premise “haunted object causes chaos for suburban family” and at least try to do something a little different. Even if the results aren’t particularly amazing, I give the film extra points for its creepiness and disturbing elements.

“Oculus,” which is Latin for “eye” in case you were wondering, like I said, tells two stories. It tells the story of two twenty something siblings: 23-year-old Kaylie (Karen Gillan) and her 21-year-old brother Tim (Brenton Twaites, who’s about to become a big deal I’m sure). Tim has just been released from a mental hospital. Kaylie works for an auction house and joins forces with her reluctant brother to vanish some sort of malevolent spirit from an antique mirror. The parallel story revolves around these siblings’ past in which their parents succumb to the mirror’s evil and manipulative forces and the tragedy that eventually befalls them.

First of all, both stories are completely watchable and entertaining. I liked how, as young adults, you don’t quite know all the pieces of Kaylie and Tim’s past. You know Tim did something bad that was the cause of his incarceration, but you don’t know what exactly drove him to commit the crime.  And as ridiculous and silly as it is Kaylie’s “plan” to “exorcise” the mirror is as well-thought out as it is unnecessary. The mirror has been bought by some rich art collector and she “borrows” it for a few day – best to leave it alone if you ask me.  She even includes a tight rundown of the mirror’s evil history for the benefit of the audience and whoever finds the video that she plans on recording of the exorcism.

 The film’s truly disturbing sequences involve the pair’s younger selves (played as kids by Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan) as they settle into their new home with their parents Marie (Katee Sackhoff) and Alan (Rory Cochran). Something doesn’t seem quite right, as tends to happen in movies like this. Dad and mom keep arguing as there’s something about perhaps “another woman.”Although she isn’t exactly your normal home wrecker. I like how these flashback sequences are really told through the point-of-view of the kids which makes it all the more frightening. The film, in a way, borrows heavily from “The Amityville Horror” in that the father begins to go mad and something, specifically in this mirror, is making him go mad. And the performances here are solid and convincing.

Director Mike Flangan, who co-wrote the film with Jeff Howard, based it on a short film he had previously directed.  They keep things a fairly swift pace, but take time in revealing the horror of the situation. Flangan, who also served as the film’s editor, expertly pieces these two concurrent stories together pretty interesting ways, as if they were happening at the same time. This is another solid entry in the Jason Blum-produced (Indisious, Paranormal Activity, The Purge) line of modern horror films that harkens back to a time when horror films not only felt original, but were at least scary enough to recommend the film to others. “Oculus” won’t really stay with you or haunt your dreams, but the almost “Nightmare on Elm Street” is-this-reality-or-not scenarios are a truly something worth watching for any horror fan.  GRADE: B