It was movie review time and Oculus was on my Watch List, so I grabbed my keys, jumped in my car and sped up to the local theater. Since this was during regular business hours, I’d be making this cinematic journey on my own. Solo movies are fun, believe it or not, and flying solo also allows me time to write up notes immediately following the film. I must admit, the shit I do for money does not suck, even if I do work for peanuts, they’re my nuts.
I arrived at the theater early in the day. It was warm, sunny and I was ready to be scared, rather, I was hoping to be scared. Excited, I approached the ticket booth and got one for Oculus. When I walked into my theater, I found that there wasn’t a soul in sight. Satisfied, I took a seat and put my stuff in the spot next to mine. Since there wasn’t anything else to do, I hopped on my phone to zone out until the lights dimmed and the previews started. A minute or two later, an older couple walked in and eye-balled me a moment too long. With a look of mild disappointment on both their faces, they made their way far up into the stadium seating.
Amused at what seemed to be unfolding in front of me, I stifled laughter. These folks were playing a little hooky and they were lookin’ for a make-out spot. I could tell, because we’ve all been there at some point in our lives. Besides, if you would have been there with me, you too would have seen it in their eyes. The best part about this whole thing was that they looked to be considerably older, so it was an especially endearing, comical, and awkward situation. Soon after these mature hornballs found the perfect spot in which to canoodle, the lights dimmed. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect.
Oculus begins with a flashback. This story starts out eleven years in the past and explains how the main characters, brother and sister Tim and Kaylie Russell (Garrett Ryan & Annalise Basso - young Tim & Kaylie), came to be orphans at 10 and 13 years of age respectively. Flash forward to present day and we find that Tim (Brenton Thwaites - older Tim) is in a psychiatric hospital and about to be released. He’s been conditioned to believe his therapist's version of what happened to his family, but we know better. We've already learned, up front, that there’s something supernatural going on with the ominous looking mirror the Russell family acquired eleven years ago, just before their patriarch went bananas.
Soon after his release from the hospital, Tim has a serious conversation with his sister. Kaylie gets right to the point. She informs Tim that she’s headed back to their childhood home to destroy the supernatural force that butchered their family over a decade ago. She also implores him to help her. When he shows initial signs of resistance, she recounts their final moments together, eleven years ago, just before they were separated by police. She lets the devastation linger as she reminds him that he promised to help her make things right.
Oculus is the story of Kaylie Russlle’s mission to destroy the mirror, which she firmly believes eviscerated her family and childhood. Kaylie is determined to go toe-to-toe with the evil that resides within the haunted antique.
While the story of the ‘haunted mirror / artifact’ doesn’t sound like anything new, Mike Flanagan (Director) manages to hold the audience's attention through nifty execution. In this movie, two stories play out almost simultaneously. The events that lead up to the tragic deaths of Kaylie and Tim’s parents are woven through present-day events, visually. The blending of these distinct eras is impressive and creates a fluid and tense atmosphere for the film.
I’m always especially excited when I go to see a new horror movie because I like creative story telling and in horror, anything goes. You’ve got to be open-minded to appreciate the genre and sometimes that pays, but other times it doesn’t. I suppose Oculus could go either way, but I’ll give it extra points for creativity.
Now that I think about it, my main issue with this movie was the acting. My BFF Isabel, recently informed me that Karen Gillian is an actor from Doctor Who, the British sci-fi television series. Gillian plays Amy in that series and she’s said to be very good on the show. I wouldn't know, I haven’t seen any of the recent Doctor Who episodes. What I do know is what she did with the role of Kaylie Russell. To be frank, I didn’t enjoy it much. A lot of the time I was left wondering if the overacting was intentional or not. If it was, the joke was lost on me.
Unfortunately, I had much the same reaction to the performances of Brenton Thwaits and Garrett Ryan. On the positive side, Rory Cochrane, Katee Sackhoff (Alan and Marie Russell, in the film) as well as Annalise Basso (young Kaylie), bring us better performances. These three successfully flesh out the dramatic storyline in the film. They also gave me someone else to root for. Since I didn't enjoy the lead actors' portrayals, I wasn't terribly invested in their survival.
The clever story telling was refreshing, but it lacked cohesion. The fancy editing and special effects did not go unnoticed, however. I’m highly impressed with how these aspects of the film were manipulated to shake things up, create confusion and develop a sense of anxiety. The movie is quiet effective at being unsettling, which is great in and of itself.
The scares are mostly good and the tension is consistently high. The acting is questionable at best and the story feels a bit done. If you’re out looking for a movie, and scary is appealing to you, check this one out. Who knows, you might like it more than I did.
I will warn you, though. When the credits first rolled, I was left feeling angry and cheated. That's the main reason this movie gets a C- as opposed to a solid C. The story felt all too incomplete and I found that irritating. Now that I’ve had a moment to get a little perspective, I can appreciate the original aspects of the movie that were employed to create this creepy little cinematic jaunt. Sadly, however, that just isn’t enough for a glowing recommendation, at least not from me.
I hung around for a few moments during the credits because: A. I was shocked at how conned I felt at the end of this movie and B. I wanted to see just how disheveled the mature hornballs ended up. Regrettably, my anger got the better of me and I left before I could catch a voyeuristic glimpse of the canoodlers. I waited and waited, but nothing. It was quiet, too quiet if you ask me.
Oculus (2014) - C-
C- = A whole lot of OK does not equal great, or even good for that matter. Meh--meh is what it equals.