Screenplay: Mike Flanagan, Jeff Howard
Producers: Marc D. Evans, Trevor Macy
Starring: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Katee Sackhoff, Rory Cochrane, Annalise Basso, Garrett Ryan and James Lafferty
BBFC Certification: 18
Duration: 104 mins
“The mirror made me do it”. To all intents and purposes this is the sole premise upon which this movie is based, along with gimmicks borrowed from every major horror film since I don’t know when. Not saying it is a bad movie, on the contrary, it was well shot with good story, structure and a competent cast and crew who did a great job not getting in the way of the story.
The plot is fairly straight-forward. A sister and brother, Kaylie (Karen Gillan) and Tim (Brenton Thwaites), are reunited several years after a horrific event that culminated in in the deaths of both parents. Now grown up, they come together to fulfil a pact they made each other on that fateful day, namely to destroy the aforementioned mirror (aka Lasser glass) which they believe was responsible for their family tragedy. The antique mirror delivers a sterling performance as the sinister entity, intent on inflicting death and destruction to all those with whom it comes in contact. Not even dumb plants or cute animals are spared in its kill zone.
The movie uses a series of flashbacks, which intertwine and interact with the present, to relay the horror visited upon our then teenage siblings when their parents, driven insane by the mirror, attempt to kill each other and the kids. There are some good turns from the flashback supporting cast, including Rory Cochrane’s harried Dad, Katee Sackhoff’s brilliantly tormented Mom, and superbly played teenage siblings by Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan. The brutal deaths of both parents lead afterwards to little brother Tim (Ryan) being sent to into protective custody while big sister Kaylie (Basso) is left to fend on her own as best she can throughout the 10 years they are apart.
After their reunion, it soon becomes clear that Kaylie has an elaborate plan to return to their childhood home, which she has rigged with sensors, recorders and other clever Weapons of Mirror Destruction, in order to put paid once and for all to the malevolent mirror. Aided by a reluctant Tim they commence to revisit painful memories of their past along with further mind bending encounters with the dark side of the Lasser Glass. It is fairly convincing the way in which the film interleaves reality with hallucination, and in no time you’re left wondering what is real or imagined, (much like the characters do when the mirror takes a hold). Also, it is somewhat ironic in these days of Smartphones, Google Glass, and Virtual Reality headsets (e.g. Oculus Rift), that Kaylie and Tim have to rely on technology to confirm what is real or not. Hmmm, I wonder if these companies are not somehow involved with the movie script concept or production.
Oculus tries very hard to be a traditional horror movie, but in so doing doesn’t bring much new to the table. If anything, it doggedly rehashes the safe, tried and tested formulae that made other similar genre films stand out. E.g. the use of video cameras and other recording equipment to capture the phenomena is so reminiscent of Paranormal Activity that I half expected to hear the scary foot thuds from that demonic monster. The theme of demonic possession, a la The Exorcist or similar possession flicks, is evident as the mirror entities like to hitch free rides in their victims. Also, the mirror’s gateway to an alternate reality, infested with nasty spectral beings, is pure Insidious. There was even a bit of Ring thrown in via use of telephony to communicate with The Entity. Other homage to horror greats include a touch of inevitable and impending death (Final Destination), plus a dash of fingernail ripping torture (Saw or Hostel).
These and other references to successful genre films, ranging from the merely subtle to complete rip offs, make up the majority of the spectacle in this movie. This is probably a smart move because it has something for every horror fan, but doesn’t really do much for real movie buffs in my opinions. Overall, Oculus is an enjoyable slow burner, if you’re young or newly turned on to horror films, but it may not have as much appeal to a more experienced / jaded audience, especially if you have already seen most of the titles it references.