Last Friday, the latest horror movie from the Jason Blum production team (the guys responsible for Insidious, Paranormal Activity, The Purge et. al) hit theatres. That film is called Oculus, and you should go see it. I was lucky enough to see this flick at TIFF’s Midnight Madness last year, and am here to insist you go check it out. Now I must admit, when I bought tickets to see this last October, I had no idea it was a horror movie. I just saw the names Katee Sackhoff and Karen Gillan on the docket, nerded out, and promptly bought tickets. Had I known it was scary, I probably would have hesitated, missed out on tickets and this awesome movie, which would have led to an endless lifetime of kicking myself. And get this: I hate scary movies.
I know what you’re probably thinking, “But Rachel, maybe you’re just a lot braver than me, and thus have a higher threshold for the modern horror film”. Well that my friend, is horse shit. While I may seem valiant and courageous, I have been terrified of anything remotely scary my entire life. I was that kid who cried at slumber parties because a scary movie was being talked about. Hell, I once called my Dad and begged to be picked up from Laura Holmes’ house because A Kid in King Arthur’s Court scared the shit out of me (to be fair, Kate Winslet’s hair weave in that film is terrifying). I had nightmares from a Mary Kate and Ashley movie for Christ’s sake. But I loved Oculus. Why? Because while it definitely is a horror movie, it is not in the same school of horror that Blum is known for. Oculus is straight up brilliant.
The movie centres around two siblings, Kaylie and Tim, who reunite several years after their parents suspicious deaths. While Tim has taken the blame for their parents’ demise, Kaylie believes that a haunted/possessed mirror is to blame for the downfall of her family, and has set out to prove that’s the case. With their childhood home empty and cameras in place, the siblings face off against the mirror and the evil it holds.
Once the battle begins, timelines and realities become fluid, and this is where the film shines. Rather than giving the viewer a background-heavy exposition, the past and present are woven together as the characters relive their childhood; they are forced to once again watch their parents lose their grip on reality while the struggle to hang onto theirs. What is real and what is the mirror forcing them to see? The majority of this movie is a mind bending experience.
Of course with anything that’s possessed, Oculus has some downright shit your pants moments (or in the case of my friend Rob, “scream like a girl” moments), but you are so focused on trying to untangle the brilliant web of a story, that you’re not spending the whole movie with your ass cheeks clenched, waiting for something to jump out at you. Instead, you find yourself immersed in the story, trying to guess what’s coming next.
A movie guided by supernatural forces is only believable if the performances sell it, and let me tell you friend, they do. I will admit that as a very big Dr. Who fan, seeing Amy Pond but hearing an American accent was jarring at first, but you get over it quickly as Karen Gillan sucks you into Kaylie’s obsession with the mirror, through fast paced monologues and a wavering sense of bravery. She is accompanied perfectly by her costar Brenton Thwaites, who plays her reluctant but willing brother, Tim. Their performances are cantered around a shared pain that the characters have, which is evident throughout the film.
Like I said earlier, Oculus jumps all over the place when it comes to time, meaning Kaylie and Tim need younger counterparts. Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan own the roles of the younger versions of their respective characters. But what really makes it work, is that the actors are so alike, not just in appearance, but in performance, that you really believe you’re watching two versions of the same person,
I have to say though, the two actors who sold the movie the best were the parents. Through flashbacks and timey wimey-ness, we witness Marie (Katee Sackhoff) and Allan (Rory Cochrane) venture from a happily married couple to a terrifying end. I’m obviously not going to say what happens, but Katee Sackhoff eating glass and Rory Cocchrane’s blank stare will haunt you a lot longer than anything the mirror does, that’s for damn sure.
Is this movie scary? Of course, it’s a movie about a haunted mirror. But I don’t think the marketing team for Oculus is doing the movie justice. I swear, they’re only claiming it’s the “Scariest movie since The Conjuring” because they’re not allowed to put “super mind-fucky” in a trailer, which would be a hell of a lot more accurate. This is not your standard horror movie, friends.
So if you’re in the mood for a solid psychological thriller with a few horror elements thrown in, go see Oculus. It might scare the bejesus out of you, but you’ll be so enthralled by the story you won’t even care.