Horror fans can rejoice, Oculus is one scary a** movie. An advanced screening of this superior scarefest on film left me practically stunned by the time the end credits rolled. Michael Flanagan does a bang up job of piling on those moments that either have you peering sideways at the screen or ready to jump out of your skin. We’ve included the film’s trailer below.
Oculus starts with a dream, a nightmare really, that 21 year-old Tim Russell is an active participant in, the dream ends with him shooting a little red-headed girl. He tells the psychiatric doctor that this was the first time that he’s held the gun in his nightmare. Right after this scene, we see Tim being given the all clear to leave the mental hospital that he’s been a resident in for over 10 years.
Next up is Tim’s sister Kaylie. She is a determined, confident and driven young lady. She works in an auction house with her fiance. Tim will be met by her when he leaves the hospital. Before going to collect her younger brother, she waits to see who buys a tall and gloomy-looking mirror.
After picking up Tim, she realises that he remembers nothing about the night 10 years before, when their parents died and he was carted off by the police. Kaylie tells Tim that she’s going to destroy the mirror that killed mom and dad. She reminds him of his promise, which he has forgotten.
The film really takes off after the two siblings reunite outside the asylum. We see that Kaylie may not have been in a mental hospital, but she has suffered her own sort of psychological hell. She wakes her fiance up on a regular basis with “night terrors” that causes her to scream and thrash about. These nocturnal nightmares are all about the same thing, the mirror that caused her family to self-destruct.
The performances by all the main protagonists were beyond perfect. Karen Gillan (Doctor Who, NTSF:SD:SUV) brings Kaylie Russell to living, breathing, and slightly obsessed, life. Her single-minded character skirts the edges of madness throughout and she also manages to add a tiny bit of humor to her controlled actions. How can you not chuckle when, as another of her many alarms go off, she grabs a bottle of water, shoves it at her brother and almost shouts, “Hydrate.” This Scottish actress played an obsessive American willing to go all the way to destroy the looking glass that destroyed her family beyond convincingly.
However, kudos for the acting in this film must be shared out equally to all. Brenton Thwaites, an Australian actor who, until recently, was a regular on the Aussie soap Home and Away, was equally up to the challenge of playing a flawed American character. His calm in the face of his sister’s apparent madness and the increasingly disturbing events in the film wavered convincingly. Thwaites, as Tim, had that bruised, yet self righteous, air of the recently cured. His, “I know much more than you do about the human condition” attitude was spot on, right up until the evil and scary a** mirror ups its game and Oculus takes control of everything.
Mad props to Katee Sackhoff, whom I’d only in two other features, though she’s done much more than that, completely and utterly nailed her part. Her character of the mother who goes through what appears to be several different levels of metaphoric hell, was so convincing that she managed to scare the hell out of me while also getting my total sympathy. Sackhoff (Riddick, The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia) is a powerful actress who takes her character’s disintegration in her stride.
Rory Cochrane as the father whom the mirror initially targets, the poor bugger has the evil thing hanging in his small office, also knocks his performance into the stratosphere. Cochrane (Argo, A Scanner Darkly) starts off with a quiet affability that becomes less so as the looking glass takes hold. Later in the film, when daddy Russell becomes not only insane, but murderous, Rory manages to maintain that affable exterior while showing at the same time his descent into madness.
The film itself is not of the “jump scare” variety. Although there are at least two such moments in the film that had me leaping off the cinema seat. Most of the film contained enough “cringe” moments to leave the audience tempted to view the action through partially covered eyes. In the trailer, Kaylie lays an apple down and later puts a similarly shaped lightbulb beside it. She picks up, what looks to be the apple, and when she bites down, glass tinkles and fragments fall to the ground.
Despite seeing that in the trailer, when the moment came onscreen, it lost none of its OMG appeal. I, and my fellow moviegoers, still winced and jerked back from the screen. Although the trailer does tend to be a bit “spoilery” it takes nothing away from that incident. The movie is full of these “wince” and cringe bits. It also uses a time “doubling’ effect where the character’s interact with younger versions of themselves.
This device is fairly unique. The first time I’d ever seen it was in Takashi Shimizu’s The Shock Labyrinth 3D and it has to be said that director, and co-writer, Flanagan does it better and with greater effect. This “doubling” of time helps to keep the movie going at a rapid pace, along with the rest of the film, which kept eyes glued to the screen and hands ready to cover eyes at the more intense scenes.
The cinematography was spot on, as was the lighting of the sets, and helped to make the film look the perfect combination of evil and psychological thriller. By the end of the movie, as an audience you cannot help but wonder how much of the film was supernatural and how much was just a mental breakdown of the characters in it. Splendid stuff this and well worth watching. Luckily, I watched the film in the harsh light of day, watching it at night, may have you jumping away from shadows. Consider yourself warned…
It may be a bit early in 2014 to say that Oculus is the scariest film of the year. After all, it is only April, but in terms of originality this film rocks. Without having to resort to monsters or a serial killer, a la’ Jason or Freddy Krueger, this film was one scary a** movie. Oculus opens in theaters on April 11, 2014. Have a look at the trailer and prepare to be scared.
By Michael Smith
AMC Town Square 18