Any time a studio is ready to put out an R rated horror movie, I am usually on board with it – much like I was with Oculus. However, going in I had not realized that WWE Studios produced the whole shebang. Not that I am knocking the studio – The Rundown was a pretty top-notch throwback to action comedy genre of old – but they don’t have the best pedigree either. In spite of this, Oculus shines as a reasonably well put together film with just decent enough acting to be effective at culling out a few scares and be all around entertaining.
While this may as well be a haunted house movie, the malevolent forces live inside an antique mirror and wreak havoc in a much more mobile manner over the course of its history. This time the mirror ends up in nice neighborhood circa 2001 and possesses the father of a nice family, played by Rory Cochrane (Argo), and he tortures and kills Starbuck from Battlestar — err Marie Russell his wife. Their two children witness the whole thing and blame it on the mirror, though that does prove to be correct. Flash forward to Tim’s 21st birthday and he is getting out of a psychiatric hospital for the first time since the incident and his sister is there to meet him when he gets out.
I’ll let you figure out the rest when you watch it, horror movies often have so little plot to stand on as it is – it would be a disservice to let you know beforehand. Writer-director Mike Flanagan brings us through spiraling helix of a timeline that intersects the past, present and an alternate reality the haunted mirror conjures in our main characters brain. It is surprisingly fun to watch the clever ways co-writer Jeff Howard and Mike Flanagan use the camera as an unreliable narrator to play and trick the audience into uncertainty. You never really know where you are when the next scene opens and you move with the character on screen because you are in the same boat they are. Oculus relies on the audience tapping into the sense of the unknown and impending doom the characters face, rather than using jump cuts or loud music to get a reaction. Though the film isn’t completely guilt-free in that regard.
The sad part is that Oculus isn’t enough to legitimize horror again. This is nothing new – you’ve seen this movie before. The film really does try to be different though with the use of those multiple, winding, narratives and old school atmospheric scares, but it just isn’t quite there yet. The genre as a whole isn’t quite there yet, but this is a step in the right direction. Oculus is in no way a bad movie: it fits into its 105 minute runtime snugly albeit a little slow to get started, has a few good scares, and is acted well enough where you don’t have to wonder if this is a B movie or not.
If you are a fan of the genre it is worth it, but if you are expecting to go in and see the next The Shining you will only have your feelings hurt.