Monday, April 14, 2014

[Review] Oculus

Amidst the handful of awful mainstream horror films within the last few years, there have been a couple of gems. Most recently Sinister, Mama, and The Conjuring have all hit the mark. And now we have Oculus, a supernatural thriller that revolves around a manipulative, demonic mirror.

Kaylie (Karen Gillan) reunites with her younger brother Tim (Brenton Thwaites), who has just been released from a mental institution. Both of their parents fell victim to murder, and Kaylie strongly believes it was because of the mirror, which has a cursed history dating back to the 1700s, and she seems to be the only one that's recognized the causation. The tragic back story is tactfully revealed as the narrative alternates between two different time periods--the present, as well as Kaylie and Tim's childhood 10 years prior. Kaylie and Tim have differing accounts of what originally happened during those terrible days. This creates some early conflict between them, and also serves the story's themes.

The catalyst in the present occurs when Kaylie tracks down the mirror and buys it at an auction. First thought is: Why? Wouldn't she want to stay far away from the thing that caused so much damage? BUT... For one, we wouldn't have much of a movie then. And two, Kaylie has an elaborately thought-out plan in order to document and prove the mirror's malignant powers are true, then eventually destroy it and reconcile with the past.

It starts patiently and then the events in each timeline steadily escalate, ramping up the dread, scares, and uneasy intensity. The timelines begin to bleed together, and once the mirror yields its vicious powers, the doors open up for a bunch of creepy tricks and tools, blurring what's real and what isn't. Oculus also retains a thematic thread of memories and coping mechanisms, guilt and innocence, and rational explanation vs. the paranormal. The film solemnly taps into primal fears and tenacious curiosity. 

The mirror in this film is very much a reflection of horror films in general--disturbing, traumatizing, and hair-raising, but we keep going back to them. And when horror films are as effective as Oculus, we just can't look away.


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