Review: ‘Oculus’ features emotion, strong filmmaking and scary mirrors

Katee Sackhoff is scared by a little old scary mirror in "Oculus." Credit: John Estes
Katee Sackhoff is scared by a little old scary mirror in “Oculus.”
Credit: John Estes

‘Oculus’
Director: Mike Flanagan
Stars: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

The new horror film “Oculus” is for people who are suckers for movies about people who go nuts in confined, haunted spaces. (Are there any “1408” fans in the house?)

The movie has willowy, Scottish geek goddess Karen Gillan (“Doctor Who”) and hunky, Aussie soap star Brenton Thwaites (“Home and Away”) as siblings who come back to the home where their parents (Katee Sackhoff and Rory Cochrane) died eleven years before. Gillan’s big sis Kaylie believes the events of that hellish night happened because Mom and Dad were possessed by this large, antique mirror that hung in the old man’s office. Thwaites’s fragile Tim, who’s been in a mental facility for having to blow away Dad when he went on a gun-wielding rampage, believes it was just a case of parents going nuts on each other. With the help of computers and surveillance cameras, Kaylie is determined to catch the mirror in the supernatural act.

“Oculus” seems like “The Amityville Horror” if James Brolin and Margot Kidder’s kids went back to the freakin’ house, as the movie continually flashes back to the sibling’s younger days, where their kiddie selves (Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan) witness the madness that goes on and must defend themselves when things start getting truly terrifying.  

Expanding on a 2005 short, cowriter/director Mike Flanagan provides some fluid camerawork (as though the camera operator was one of the ghosts who populate this film) and establishes a well laid-out narrative. The first half has Kaylie and Tim each creating convincing arguments as they debate whether or not they saw what they really saw. Of course, all that goes out the window in the second half, when the weird stuff starts happening and they find themselves having to survive all over again.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about this isn’t how Flanagan creates a creepy, unpredictable tone through all this controlled, claustrophobic chaos (that’s impressive, too), but how the movie never devolves into utter ridiculousness. Thanks to Flanagan and Jeff Howard’s straight-faced script — not to mention Gillan and Thwaites’s sincere, sympathetic performances — the movie doesn’t become yet another soulless haunted house movie. By the time it gets to its climactic twist, which is more sad than sadistic (and leaves the door open for sequels, of course), you realize just how heartbreaking a horror show “Oculus” truly is.

Follow Craig D. Lindsey on Twitter @unclecrizzle



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