UK Release Date: 13th June 2014
Runtime: 103 minutes
Director: Mike Flanagan
Writer: Mike Flanagan, Jeff Howard
Starring: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Rory Cochrane, Katee Sackhoff
Synopsis: When her younger brother is released from a mental institution, a woman tries to prove his innocence by convincing authorities that the culprit was a supernatural evil within an ornate mirror.
Horror movies in 2014 have been a little bit rubbish so far. Found footage has been ubiquitous once again, with Devil’s Due and Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones stinking up a storm. Oculus immediately stood out as a unique entry amongst this year’s horror releases and it certainly delivers on that potential.
Tim (Brenton Thwaites) is released from a mental institution, eleven years after the bizarre death of his parents. His daughter Kaylie (Karen Gillan) picks him up to tell him that she has reclaimed a mirror that houses a supernatural entity responsible for the murders. Tim, suppressing the supernatural aspects of the ordeal, as part of his therapy is sceptical, but agrees to take part in Kaylie’s plan to reveal the truth.
Oculus is, at its most basic level, really refreshing in the midst of a boring year for the horror genre. It is presented as a dual narrative, with Kaylie’s investigation in the present day playing alongside the unfolding tragedy of eleven years prior. This slowly reveals the true power of the mirror, both in the modern era and in flashback.
| "Hello again, you must be hungry."
The two central performances are solid. Former Doctor Who companion Gillan brings an intense confidence to her role, even if her American accent is a little twangy and ropey at times. She proves herself perfectly capable of carrying a movie, ahead of her villainous turn in upcoming mega-blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy. Brenton Thwaites also does a great job as the straight man in the face of Gillan’s apparent madness and opposition.
Oculus pretty much eschews jump scares in favour of slow-burn chills. It is never as scary as it perhaps wants to be, but it does a good job of creating a really unsettling atmosphere. It subtly establishes the level of supernatural power that the mirror has, gradually escalating to the finale, which is balls-out bonkers and genuinely surprising.
This could be the film that marks writer-director Mike Flanagan out as a growing talent in the horror genre, adapted from his own 2006 short. He manages to juggle the two time periods in a clear way and doesn’t allow his story to dissolve into the usual problems of the mind-bending horror subgenre.
| "I’ve met my demons and they are many. I’ve seen the devil, and he is me."
At a time when the horror genre is flagging, it’s brilliant to see a film as daring as Oculus getting a decent run in cinemas. It doesn’t always work, but it has moments of real terror and keeps the audience guessing at every turn.
Pop or Poop?
Even if it isn’t pant-wettingly terrifying, Oculus deserves credit for being something genuinely interesting and different with a really inventive story.
The concept is simplistic, but Mike Flanagan spins it out into an engrossing head-scratcher powered by two solid performances. Karen Gillan has a bright career outside of the TARDIS, as long as she is allowed to ditch the American accent.
Oculus is the best horror film of 2014 so far, and that praise isn’t nearly as faint as it sounds.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.