I don’t want to say that Oculus was a disappointment because I did like the story. It just wasn’t what I had expected. Judging by the trailer, I was expecting this year’s equivalent to The Conjuring. The truth is, though there were a few good creepy scenes and some tense moments, Oculus never delivered the scares in a big way.
Two children, Tim and Kaylie, survive the mental breakdown and attack of their parents which ends with both parents dead. Now 10 years later, Tim is released from an institution, cured of his delusions about the tragic night. Kaylie is happy to see him and immediately escorts him to their childhood home. She has plans to clear her family’s name (especially her father), and prove the strange and ancient mirror was the cause of the tragic event.
Kaylie has set up cameras and atmospheric recording devices on the mirror, as well as, a fail safe device to destroy the artifact if the situation gets out of hand. Naturally, Tim thinks it’s unnecessary, having learned through his psych treatments that what they had witnessed as children were delusions in the face of violent trauma. We soon see that delusions are the power of the mirror – the bending of reality in order to drive the owners of the artifact insane. In this way, Oculus is a psychological horror film and you can see the family going through difficulties that would make them loose their grip on reality.
Once the experiment begins the brother is plagued with vivid flashback memories. From that point on, the film alternates from past to present for the remainder of its runtime. This effectively keeps the film moving as two stories unfold simultaneously. We get good pacing and revealing of details about the tragic night past, while the current night’s plan begins to unravel.
The drawback to this aspect is we know the children survive into adulthood. This deflates a lot of the tension in the flashbacks and breaks the escalating suspense of the present story. Ultimately it makes the film less scary than its potential. Spirits emerge from the mirror in some creepy scenes, but don’t play an active role in the action. They attempt (and often succeed) in influencing the family members to deadly deeds but are relegated to standing in corners and whispering in family member’s ears. Shades of The Shining are present here as the spirits push the father to murder.
I did enjoy the story. I think it was well-written and original in the way it was told. I also thought all of the acting was high grade for a horror film and that may be its strongest asset. I know there are a lot of names associated with the film (from the makers of…), but the only one that matters is director/writer Mike Flanagan who also made Absentia. I actually like Oculus more.
However, I always look for that one film each year to carry the torch for the horror genre into the next year. Despite a promising premise and a strong story, Oculus is not the one. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it for what it is.
An interesting paranormal psychological horror story worth a viewing.
I give it 3.8 horrific halucinations on the malignant haunted mirror scale!