Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Oculus (2013) - Horror Film Review

Oculus was actually made in 2012 but only just released in the UK this past week. I actually saw the trailer for this around half a year ago and had assumed it had been and gone. I was not expecting too much, though the premise of a haunted mirror was an interesting one.

In 2002 a series of strange events revolving around an old mirror occurs at the house of siblings Tim (Brenton Thwaites), Kaylee Russell (Karen Gillan) and their parents which results in Tim ending up in a mental institute and his parents dead. Now ten years later in modern day (well 2012) Tim has just been released and his sister upon picking him up requests his help in a task she has to do. Kaylee has tracked down the cursed mirror and wants Tim's help in finally destroying it. Her brother is convinced that his sister is crazy as he has blocked out his memories of the past, but he accompanies her to their childhood home anyway where she has set up an experiment. Rather than just destroy the mirror she wants to set out to prove that it is actually a thing of evil and restore her families tarnished name by recording everything that happens. This proves to be quite the error though as insanity and madness arrive in increasing amounts as the night of the experiment goes on.

Oculus is split between the past and the present day, I would say almost half the film is shown via flash backs of when Tim and Kaylee were kids, while the other half has them attempting to defeat the mirror. As the film goes on these two time lines merge with clever camera work so that it constantly shifts between the two times seamlessly. I have to say the modern day segments were a lot better and more involving so the gradual spill over to concentrating on the past was a bit disappointing.

The mirror is an interesting object in that it causes it's victims to hallucinate and see and hear things that are not there. Kaylees speech she gives to the cameras about the history of the mirror was fascinating and really sets up the mirror as something to be feared. Previous victims involved a woman who died of thirst whilst laying in a bathtub full of water, and a man who ran out into traffic and was killed just moments after he attempted to smash the mirror. It  has strong defences and can trick it's victims into causing themselves harm. A hanging blade on a timer is set up to destroy the mirror automatically if Kaylee or her brother does not reset the timer every half hour, thus preventing the mirror from killing them and with that they hope to record enough evidence to clear their family, this leads to some great story beats, especially as the mirror keeps confusing the two so that they keep finding themselves standing right in the potential path of the hanging blade.

Pretty Gillan is fantastic as the older Kaylee, her confidence is slowly eroded throughout the film and as a result her character change from in control to terrified is greatly done, Thwaites as Tim on the other hand does an ok job but comes across as bit wooden at times. The young versions of them are more irritating than anything, running around being annoying as kids in horror films can be. Their parents include Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica) who does the best with her role but the parents in general are just there to portray the effects of the evil. With just a handful of characters and the majority of the film taking place in the one house it is good that things never get too dull.

What irks for me is the whole gathering evidence part of the plot. If they had just destroyed the mirror in the first place than nothing bad would have happened, rather than messing around trying to show proof (though this does lead to some great moments when the footage they have filmed is vastly different to what has just happened to them in the film. Also after a very strong first half the film just begins to unravel, the majority of the second half is just dragged out and looses its impact, ending on a very unsatisfying note. Maybe as Oculus was based on a half hour short they could not think of anything to pad out a 100 minute run time. As an aside I am sure Apple sponsored the film as every damn electronic device they use in the film has the logo glaring out at you.

This is a scary film though and I was glued to my seat really thirsting to find out how the story played out, I cared for the main characters in the present day segments at least. The idea of a cursed mirror is something that has not been done that much before, the mirror despite being an inanimate object manages to come across as pretty darn scary! Being a 15 there is not much gore but what is there is grim and made me look away on occasion such as when a character gets tricked by the mirror into biting down onto a light bulb rather than the apple they thought they were eating! A lot of strangulation occurs if that is your thing, and a lot of ghost type figures with creepy shining eyes pop up and look wrong as hell.

Oculus is a tarnished film, on the one hand it is genuinely scary and has an interesting premise, the parts taking place a decade after the horror happened feel really fresh. On the other side flash backs feel kind of stale and a mid film slump sees the ideas well run a bit dry. Still it succeeds as a horror film and kept me dedicated right to the end.


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