After 10 years locked up in a mental institution for killing his father, 21 year old Tim Rusell is finally free and eager to see his sister, Kaylie, who has spent the last decade in a myriad of foster homes, building a career for herself and obsessing about the night that tore their family apart. Kaylie believes that an antique mirror in their old home possessed her parents into doing the despicable things they did and swears to prove her parents were not murderers. When she finally locates the mirror, she asks for Tim’s help in destroying it to put an end to its curse once and for all.
Oculus caught my interest from the very first moment because of the sheer mystery behind the events in Kaylie and Tim’s childhood. While Oculus was clearly going for a supernatural horror with its Sinister-inspired approach, there were always more questions raised as more details were unraveled about the events leading up to that fateful night in the Rusell household.
Initially, it will throw audiences off to learn that the brother and sister remember things differently. The fact that the two have tendencies of suffering from delusions compounds the mystery further. The psychological jargons that serve to justify what happened 10 years prior fuels the possibility that the events happened because of very real personal issues with no supernatural entity involved. But then again, there is also a very real possibility that the events were spawned by something elemental and a very real sense of danger ensues as the two unstable and traumatized siblings try to entrap a supernatural being preying on people for centuries.
With all of this confusion, one would normally think that Oculus would be a mess but it was not. Sure, the jumping timelines took some getting used to but as the story progressed and the siblings get more immersed in their mission, the transitions became more fluid, and so did the intertwining stories of both past and present.
Personally, I loved the innovative cinematography of the film, leading to beautiful shots and not just the typical person looking at the mirror fare. The camera shots here were well framed, birds’ eye view, slanted in such a way that only a portion of the individual is seen through the mirror. I also loved the strong sibling dynamics which carried the overall effectiveness of the movie. The you and me against the world theme was executed flawlessly by both pairs of lead stars. Karen Gillan (adult Kaylie) and Annalise Basso (young Kaylie) consistently projected the intensity and courage of a protective big sister, while Brenton Thwaites (adult Tim) and Garret Ryan (young Tim) both showed the vulnerability and uncertainty of a younger brother overwhelmed by what’s happening to his family.
What’s great about Oculus is that it took its sweet time laying the groundwork for a mind boggling horror, reserving shocks in strategic moments but establishing a strong dramatic relationship between the lead stars, then basically just keeping the audiences at the edge of their seats with quiet deliberation. The danger lurks and rears its ugly head throughout the movie but audiences can feel that its always there whether in the form of a malicious supernatural being or a crazy sibling.
But what’s really brilliant about Oculus is that despite its simplicity, it manages to divert the audiences’ attention into thinking that what was causing all of the problems was something else when in fact, it was what it was saying all along. And what shouldn’t be a surprise becomes a great surprise with the ending.
All in all, a great horror movie. It felt long because it was so quiet but it managed to accomplish what it set out to do, which was keep audiences at the edge of their seats and not make them feel safe, even for a moment. For those who are curious to know what happened to Tim, director/scriptwriter Mike Flanagan developed a short in 2006 entitled Oculus Chapter 3: The Man With a Plan. I don’t know what happened in between though.