Oculus (2014) – A Movie Review

Oculus (2014) is an intriguing thriller that plays tricks with your mind. Although it premiered in the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival in 2013, it debuted in cinemas until April 2014.1) This movie explores the darkest corners of our minds and wander through our innermost soul fears. This is not a regular horror movie about a haunted artifact and serial killings, like Hollywood is used to show us lately.

Oculus describes the drama of Karen Gillan (Doctor Who, Guardians of the Galaxy) as Kaylie Russell, a woman marked by a traumatic experience, and together with his brother, Brenton Thwaites as Tim Russell (Blue Lagoon: The Awakening, Maleficent), she will try to prove that a mysterious mirror has life of its own. Tim just got out of a mental facility after years of therapy, because he was accused of killing his father, Alan Russell, interpreted by Rory Cochrane (Hart's War, Argo), who tortured and killed his wife, and mother of the young Russell siblings, Marie Russell, portrayed by the brilliant Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica, Riddick). It is then when Kaylie blames their misfortune to the mirror in their old house.

The ominous mirror, known as The Lasser Glass, is from Kaiylie's standpoint the main villain of her personal tragedy. In order to prove it, she will lock herself inside the house along with his brother, and the mirror. She had all set up and had thought about every single detail. She has food, water, alarm clocks, in addition to video cameras and computers, recording every single bit of their experience. And she has too an ultimate weapon to defend against the evil spirit that possesses a mirror shape. However, what can she do to trick the trickster?

Katee Sackhoff in Toronto. Picture by GabboT CC-BY-SA-2.0 2)

Mike, The Man with a Plan

The acting has some up and downs, depending on the film moment. Generally speaking, you can see Sackhoff, Gillan, and Annalise Basso (New Girl, Standing Up) as young Kaylie, performing great in their respective roles. Sackhoff as the mother displays her more believable motherly side in this movie, and convince the audience about her parental role. As the movie builds up, Sackhoff depicts a woman tormented by hallucinations, and insecurities about her marriage. Gillan is gorgeous, and additionally she shows off to us her terrific talent as an actress. Maybe her fans were expecting a more “whovian” role, but in this movie she plays a complete different character. She is determined to find out the “truth” about The Lesser Glass. Basso interprets a healthy girl, who loves to play with her brother and the family dog inside the house and around the garden, but all of the sudden she has to face the decaying mental state of her parents, and their relationship as a family. On the other hand, the male cast isn't that good as its female counterpart. Garrett Ryan (Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer, Insidious: Chapter 2) as young Tim looks always like the same scared kid, even when he is playing with his sister. Thwaites brights from time to time, specially when he interacts with Gillan and both debate about the nature of the mirror. Cochrane portrays a very dull character, and he doesn't make anything to improve it during the film, he just looks boring always: In front of a computer, when he seems to be immersed into the mirror's spell, and every time he appears on screen in general. Directed by Mike Flanagan (Oculus: Chapter 3 - The Man with the Plan, Absentia), Oculus is based on his eponymous short film. This movie reuses the plot of his first horror film, Oculus: Chapter 3 - The Man with the Plan (2006), and develops it beyond its initial boundaries. Flanagan creates a whole background story for the events that predates Oculus: Chapter 3, and adds more characters to the film to flesh it out. However, the problem with this new Oculus is that it feels excessively long, and it lasts one hour and forty-three minutes only. Maybe if Flanagan had cut it down twenty minutes, it would have been perceived more dynamic in several film scenes. The movie tended to be tedious from time to time, when it should have been more intense. Nevertheless, the film manages the suspense with mastery, making people to jump out of their seats, at the moment the most scary stuff happens in the movie. In that sense, this movie is great and you won't be disappointed. The music by The Newton Brothers (Careful What You Wish For, Somnia) was just incredible to set the tone of the movie. It engulfs you, and makes you feel the anguish of the Russell siblings.

The special effects are good, but less frequent than other regular blockbuster horror hits, because the purpose of the filmmaker is not to dazzle you with shiny lights and bright CGI creatures. He intends “to blow your mind” in a metaphorical way of course, by having this broad interesting conversations about the mirror, the family relationship, and their mental health status.

“Mirror, mirror on the wall...”

The siblings characters are like satellites revolving around The Lesser Glass, designed as a silent character that leads the plot from beginning to end, reflecting thus their fears and weaknesses in the audience. The dichotomy between Kaylie and Tim is really fascinating throughout the film. Kaylie is most emotional and visceral about the nature of the mirror, while Tim tries to be more rational and logical about Kaylie's conclusions. However, Kaylie's tendencies to use the scientific method, and to use historical events as tools to support the fact that the mirror is haunted, oppose Tim's more philosophical views of their traumatic childhood event. Their opinions are compared and contrasted, transmitting a deep feeling of doubt about what really happened in their house.

The plot takes advantage of this, and utilizes both time lines, as it superposes them at the same time during the movie. Firstly, as flashbacks to introduce the story, and then in real time, as if both were happening in that very moment.

It successfully exploits too our own childhood fears to weird objects like in this case a mirror, and the natural human fear to the unknown, something that almost everybody can relate to, making this movie a great film to watch. It plays with the notion of the mirror as a malevolent object, and the mental distress of the Russell siblings produced by the tragedy of their parents' deaths. The bad thing about this is that sometimes this two different concepts entangled themselves within the plot. If this had been done less complicated, it would have been a master piece of cinema. But, of course, it is something very difficult to achieve, but I'm glad that Flanagan tried it, because it is a really good movie, and the ending product isn't that bad after all.

In Conclusion

This is a nice thriller filled with suspense and food for thought. Sometimes it looses itself in a sea of nothingness, and sometimes get straight to the point. If you are looking for gory films, like the Saw franchise, this is not the film for you. It contains blood, yes, but just in limited doses, the blood appears in this film as a symbol of our primordial fear of death.

This movie gets closer to Hitchcock's films than our nowadays horror films. If you like good horror films, this is one you don't want to miss. If you prefer not to think about things like life, death, human mind or soul, and families, it is better that you stay away of this film. I really recommend it.



Douglas, Edward (April 13th 2014). “Box Office: Oculus Opens in Third Place with $12 Million”. Shocktillyoudrop.com. Available On-line in http://www.shocktillyoudrop.com/news/352073-box-office-oculus-opens-in-third-place-with-12-million/
GabboT (September 8th 2013). Toronto International Film Festival. (Oculus 01 Uploaded by tm) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], undefined. Picture Available On-line in http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/54/Oculus_01_%289779575072%29.jpg

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