REVIEW: “Oculus” Makes You Fear Your Reflection


Look, when it comes to horror films I am not easily impressed, a film has to have the perfect balance of story and scares and most do not rise up to the challenge, which makes “Oculus'” cleverness a pleasant surprise. (See what I did there… Look… “Oculus”)

Anyway, the film starts out with Tim Russel’s (Brenton Thwaites) release from a mental hospital after spending 10 years locked up for killing his father. Upon his release, he no longer believes a haunted antique mirror from his childhood possessed his father into murdering his mother before he was forced to take his father’s life to protect himself and his sister, Kaylie (Karen Gillan). Instead, his father had an affair that drove his mother mad and ultimately led to her murder.

Tim wants to put the past behind him, but during his time in therapy, Kaylie was trying to find answers and in her quest, she finds the antique mirror, which — based on a promise she made Tim the night of their parents deaths — she was determined to destroy. Kaylie’s “welcome back to the real world” gift to her brother is a blast from the past in their old house. She installs cameras throughout the house and sets up kill switches, all in the name of proving the mirror is evil and clearing her family’s name. Tim is hesitant to join his sister’s “foolproof” plan, but the supernatural force inside the mirror pulls him back in and things get really weird really fast.

While “Oculus” has the typical jumpy-unexpected fright moments, the film relies on its intricate dual reality to keep the audience on its toes. The mirror holds the events from Tim and Kaylie’s childhood, and brings them back to the forefront. While the siblings are living their current nightmare — seeing things that may possibly be real or maybe not — they are also reliving the night of the tragedy. The mirror makes them see whatever it wants them to, like when Kaylie bites into an apple, only to realize that it’s really a lightbulb, to then realize it’s just an illusion created by the mirror and it was really an apple the whole time. The characters get lost in the confusion and eventually, so does the audience.

In the flashbacks to the past, we see that Tim and Kaylie’s father (Rory Cochrane) became possessed by the mirror the same way that Tim and Kaylie are now. In the same way that Kaylie believed she was biting into an apple, their father believed he was ripping off a band-aid, and instead, rips off his fingernail. Here’s where a prequel could help the film become a franchise: We never see the “reality” that the mirror offers the father. We do see that he murders his wife, who seems to also have been taken by the mirror as she tries to strangle Kaylie at one point. We also see a moment where the father appears to come back into the “real world.” He realizes what he’s done and pulls the trigger on the gun Tim has pointed at him. The question of “what is really reality,” becomes the most haunting part of the film.

Director and co-writer Mike Flanagan didn’t just come up with an inventive plot, he also brought out great performances from the cast. Rory Cochrane does a great job creating a clear distinction between the father before and after the mirror. Once the mirror enters the father’s life, Cochrane’s character becomes the perfect amount of creepy, locking himself in his office and staring at the mirror for hours on end. Yet he doesn’t fully lose himself in the possession.  A tender moment where he “comes back” is believable due to the distinction in his “two” characters. Karen Gillan truly shines in the subtle moments where it seems as though she is questioning her own sanity. These moments allowed for that wall of reality to break down even further, and bring that alarming quality in the film to life.

All that being said, it seems as though writers Mike Flanagan and Jeff Howard got lazy with the ending of the film. (Don’t worry, no spoilers). “Oculus” ended on a lazy and predictable note. An appearance of ghosts in old time costumes (yes, they looked like they were dressed for Halloween), made for some unintentional comic relief in what was supposed to be one of the scariest parts of the film. We also never find out why or how the mirror has so much power. A stronger ending could have brought the film full circle, and would have left me leaving the theater terrified to look into a mirror ever again.


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