Movie Review - Oculus

Movie Review - Oculus

Now available on DVD and VOD is director Mike Flanagan's feature length version of his 2006 short film, Oculus, co-written with Jeff Seidman. I didn't have the opportunity to see this in the theaters, so I had been looking forward to it for some time. Admittedly, with a strong cast and Blumhouse's track record, I had high hopes for this one — and I was not disappointed. This film is refreshingly original and successfully weaves together the present with events eleven years in the past, as told through flashbacks. The two stories move together relatively seamlessly, though the film is uneven due to some pacing issues near the end of the first act. All the same, it's still more inventive than many of the other supernatural thrillers released in the last few years, and definitely worth your time. 

The film begins in the present, with a twenty-one year old Tim Russell being released from the mental hospital where he has been in treatment for the past eleven years. He is greeted by his sister, Kaylie. At lunch, she reveals that she has tracked down an antique mirror that she believes responsible for her parents, and countless other people's deaths over the centuries of its' existence. Her plan is to use the mirror to clear her family name before destroying it forever. Eleven years ago, Alan Russell moved into a new home with his family: His wife Marie, his thirteen year old daughter Kaylie, and his ten year old son Tim. Alan works as a software engineer and buys an antique mirror for his new office. But shortly after its' arrival, the mirror begins causing hallucinations in both adults. And as they begin to descend into madness, the children have to band together to try to stop them and the mirror. When they are unable to, they vow that when they are older, they will find the mirror and destroy it once and for all. To reveal any more would be to ruin the plot, which I try to steer away from, so I will leave it at that. 

The cast is deserves high praise here for grounding such a fantastical story. There really isn't a weak link in the chain here. Karen Gillan (Doctor Who) is riveting in the central role of the present day narrative, and she handles the clunky exposition scene with enough charisma to make it feel natural. And Brenton Thwaites (The Signal) works as the perfect counter balance for his sisters energy. Rory Cochrane (Argo) alternates between a charming father and a cold, distant husband expertly. Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica) plays Marie's detachment from reality and psychotic break with eerie precision. And even the children who play the brother and sister in flashback are absolutely phenomenal. Annalise Basso (The Red Road) is years ahead of her time with her performance, and Garrett Ryan (Insidious: Chapter 2) is astonishingly subtle for such a young actor. This is highly impressive work from everyone involved. 

Writer / Director Mike Flangan had trouble turning his short film, Oculus, into a feature, which is when he decided to add the narrative from the past and intertwine it with the present. For me, this is what made the film stand out. My only real issue, as I pointed out earlier, was with the pacing. The movie starts off strong, building the tension slowly, but the end of the first act contains a long and overly dramatic exposition scene revolving around the history of the mirror which feels cumbersome and kills the momentum. Luckily, he manages to get right back to the action, and the movie never lets up from there. 

It seems there are infinite possibilities for a sequel, which I imagine is already in the works. But if they decide to go forward with the story, they'll have to answer more questions than they did here. This is another win for Blumhouse, and shows that indie-horror is becoming increasingly accepted by mainstream audiences. Oculus is available now on Blu-Ray, DVD, VOD, iTunes and Amazon, and would appeal to all fans of supernatural or psychological horror films. Cheers. 

Grade B.

-Leo Francis