Director: Mike Flanagan
Starring: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Katee Sackhoff, Rory Cochrane, Annalise Basso, Garrett Ryan, James Lafferty
Rated: R (Terror, violence, some disturbing images and brief language)
A woman tries to exonerate her brother, who was convicted of murder, by proving that the crime was committed by a supernatural phenomenon.
By Matt Greene
Oculus starts like any other generic mid-budget horror flick with humdrum performances and characters, and cheap and unengaging scares. But about 20 minutes in, the story takes a wild and brilliant turn into its actual terrifying rabbit-hole of a plot. The bland opening then starts to feel intentional, lulling us into thinking it’s the same-old-thing before smacking us in the face with its brainy inventiveness. By the end, Oculus has profoundly disturbed, cleverly absorbed and horrifically entertained.
It’s a duel story that follows a brother and sister trying to come to terms with their childhood, all the while flashing back to what actually happened during their youth. Yet the flashbacks are far from typical. While the movie struggles a bit with spoon feeding us the characters motives through some clunky dialogue, the plot and mystery unravel methodically and intriguingly, each bump and creek more unnerving and unexpected than the last. The camerawork is top notch and editing is unflinching, the scares relying more on unease than cheap thrills and gore.
What really makes Oculus soar is the smart and unique direction. Flanagan doesn’t simply present a horror setup and then hit us with a gruesome punchline. What he gives us is a fascinating look at reason versus disorder, with Oculus doing something truly unique: questioning its own myths, leaving us wondering what’s real and what isn’t. Sure, it’s a bit overly bleak, in need of some lightness for balance. However, it’s ultimately a surprisingly smart and stylish supernatural thriller that will please surely horror fans but could even reach beyond its own genre.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.
By Cole Schneider
Most horror films aim to scare by imposing an outside force onto potential victims in whom we see some of ourselves. The most horrifying films aim to scare by placing the object of horror within the potential victims themselves. The very best horror films–like the greatest films of all genres–use this medium to elicit truth within its audience members. The rarest and greatest films not only highlight a truth for an audience but invite the audience to discover and wrestle with the truth alongside it.
“Oculus” isn’t flawless, but it certainly does each of these things with philosophical flair and primal patience. The film follows a pair of siblings reunited with each other after one was falsely accused as a juvenile of killing their father. The real perpetrator? An old genre trope: a mirror.
The structure of “Oculus” as two stories interwoven like a mirror not only fits the material, but also allows for interesting psychological query into the character’s minds as well as our own. What is natural; what is supernatural? What is logical; what is illogical? What is reality; what is perception? More to the point, what is the source of reality and why do we trust it?
The roving, inquisitive camera is certainly asking these questions and by the end the questions change fundamentally to probe the consequences of our chosen realities. “Oculus” is, in both form and substance, a wonderful horror-fable in which the supernatural elements are always grounded in a natural, logical framework leading to the reality of the horror as more deeply subversive.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars