Oculus Review


The horror genre has gone through many phases over the years.

There were the exploitation films of the seventies, followed by the FX-heavy creature features of the eighties. Then we had the self-referential teen slashers of nineties, which preceded the gornography of the noughties.

If we had to label the current flavour of the month, it would seem to be of the supernatural variety, usually featured within a domestic setting. With recent films like Sinister, Insidious and Dark Skies, the list seems to go on and on.

New release Oculus doesn’t exactly dabble with the formula, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The story follows sibling duo Kaylie and Tim Russell (Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites) who, as children, witnessed a terrible fate befall their parents.

The story then jumps eleven years: we learn that Tim had been found guilty of his parents’ murder and was incarcerated in a mental institution.

Kaylie meanwhile has built a healthy, happy life for herself.

Healthy and happy, apart from the belief that her brother is innocent and that her parents’ death was actually caused by supernatural forces.

You know, the usual family stuff.

Kaylie has a grudge against said supernatural forces and enlists Tim’s reluctant aid to settle it.

And by supernatural forces, I mean a mirror. A big, ugly, antique mirror.

Kaylie and Tim return to their childhood home, ready and willing to settle the score, equipped with a veritable arsenal of cameras, recording equipment and survival gear.

And a large anchor. It makes sense, trust me.

The story then flips back and forth between the present and the childhood events of eleven years ago.

Needless to say, things don’t exactly go to plan.

The above premise may not sound overly intriguing as haunted-house yarns go, but it does work, mainly due to the enthusiastic cast, strong direction and narrative gimmickry of the dual timeline.

Okay, so a large mirror isn’t exactly an iconic bogeyman-type figure.

But director Mike Flanagan still manages to paint a credible picture of the insanity and helpfulness which engulfs our protagonists, with shades of The Shining and The Amityville Horror never far from your mind.

Gillan and Thwaites, both up-and-comers on the Hollywood scene, throw themselves into the main roles. And their characters provide a nice inversion on the usual male-female movie dynamics: she’s the alpha male, he’s the damsel-in-distress type.

Katee Sackhoff and Rory Cochrane are good too as the parents, albeit the latter does show a descent into craziness so swift it would make Jack Torrance blanche.

Aside from a clunky bit of exposition early on, there are plenty of jump scares, a judged amount of gore and a chilling atmosphere maintained throughout.

There are also a few twists and turns thrown in as things progress, though the film does admittedly tread dangerously close to excess near the end.

But, unlike most of its peers, it manages to avoid dropping the ball by the final reel and offers a satisfying climax.

Conor Brennan

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Dates ‘n stuff

June 2014