Description: Two siblings, brother Tim(bo) Russel [Brendon Thwaites] and sister Kaylie Russel [Karen Gillan] seek revenge on an ancient mirror 11 years after said object destroyed their family bliss, made their mother, Marie [Katee Sackhoff] insane and prompted their father, Allen [Rory Cochrane] to pick up a gun and…
11 Years prior to the movie timeframe, The Russel Family moves into a new neighborhood and low-and-behold, an antique artifact in the form of a mirror finds a new place in the home office of father Allen Russel [Rory Cochrane], a brand new business owner who basically lives inside the office. His wife Marie [Katee Sackhoff] seems to be a loving, caring mother of two, young Tim [Garrett Ryan] and young Kaylie [Annalise Basso].
The movie sets itself up pretty well. Like most horror movies, the first twenty minutes get off on a pretty slow start. You get to know everyone, including the family dog. Family dynamics are explained and the first glitches start appearing. Early on, we got the feeling there was more to Marie’s story than was actually being shown on-screen, a feeling that was later validated when the more horrific events started taking place. There was a sense of insecurity that was vetted to the audience throughout the entire movie which, while not the most original plot lines, seemed to feed the mirror’s craving for pain and despair.
What’s interesting about “Oculus” is that “The Mirror”, also known as “The Lasser Glass” [for reasons explained in the movie] is a character of itself. It often happens in science-fiction, the science becomes a character, but most horror movies actually rely on ghosts, scary reflections or whatnot to tell the story. While those scary reflections and scary beings do pop up on rare occasions throughout the movie, the big bad is the mirror playing tricks on peoples’ mind, making them do things they wouldn’t normally do, make them believe things that aren’t really happening. If you’re a fan of the jump-scared horror, “Oculus” will probably not be your cup of tea. While the gentleman sitting beside us, ducked in cover the entire time, most of the people actually there had the rare jump-scare, but the movie did not rely solely on that.
The genius thing about “Oculus” is that it’s one of those rare horror movies that makes you feel uncomfortable, it’s a movie that stays with you for quite some time after you’ve left the theater. There’s not just the uncomfortable feeling, there’s a bit of everything. There’s psychological torture, there’s fuzzy family feelings. For our taste, there’s just a little bit too much psycho-babble going on, used by the screenwriters to advance the plot. While Tim had his time in a mental facility chosen carefully by the State, it seems as though he’s sucked up a little too much of the lingo and is ready to start a practice of his own.
“Oculus” is a very character-driven horror-thriller with two overlapping timeframes, that is very well written and in most cases, very well acted. While we appreciated Karen Gillan’s attempt at an American accent, she didn’t quite nail it. There were a lot of “dropping accents” that made the thought of her being from the States quite difficult to believe. Katee Sackhoff [Marie] was, at first enchanting in her first mother role, then grew more and more into the role of one.scary.motha! Sackhoff’s best performance has to be in Marie’s final moments, where that slow realization and a bit of sanity comes back to her and she lets go of young Kaylie. The star of the movie, she who wins “best performer of the night” goes to Annalise Basso, who plays Young Kaylie. She is one TALENTED young actress who has a great future ahead of her if she keeps up this level of consistency! We believed every word she said, our hearts bled every time she cried out for her mother and the guy next to us would stomp his feet to the ground whenever she walked into frame because she, ladies and gentlemen, is a showstopper!
Other than the writing, the acting and the horror aspects, there’s something else we wanted to discuss. Hooray, for we have found a horror movie that doesn’t just care about getting cheap scares from its audience! Mike Flanagan did a great job directing this movie. The cinematography was beautiful, the lighting was set up to near perfection and we didn’t just get full-frontal imagery of people eating scary stuff or close-ups purely designed as editing trickery, no! Flanagan cared about telling the story of this family more than scaring the shit out of people by simple trickery. We mentioned those last moments of Marie which were shot absolutely beautifully, even more so the very last “family portrait” Tim sees before he gets in the car.
There are, however, moments in this movie that are just like any plain old horror-thriller movie. There’s the creepy shadows, the one bad entity, the voices which were very reminiscent of “Amityville Horror” where the man is also influenced into hurting his family. There are a few jump-scares but us, as non horror fans, could appreciate the fact that it was not JUST about that. Without too much information about the mirror, we knew what it wanted, we knew how it operated and – yes – we knew how it would end BUT people also know what happened to the Titanic and that movie still holds a couple of records, if we’re not wrong?
To us, “Oculus” promised and delivered. It was one of the best horror/thrillers we’ve seen in a good number of years and its premise and storytelling, along with the acting were really, REALLY good and refreshing.
Go see it because: It’s a change of pace from most horror movies, it’s a refreshing to see a horror movie that actually pays attention to beautiful cinematography, Karen – Amy Pond – Gillan, Katee – Kara Thrace – Sackhoff (what? It’s a reason for some!), you’re a scaredy-pants that made a bet with his friends.
Pass it up because: The new house, new artifact, now haunted scenario has been done before, you love Scottish people speaking with a good American accent, you like splash-and-dash horror that makes you jump up your seat, not the kind that makes you feel uncomfortable you’re a scaredy pants who would never make that kind of bet with your friends.
We would like to thank the Imagine Film Festival, Amsterdam for their kindness and hospitality and for premiering this movie at a European festival! Go check them out here!