ImageOk, Oculus, so you want to be a good horror movie? Let’s see. Haunted object? Check. Unexplainable moving objects? Check. Spooky, long haired ghost girl that appears in the background and disappears when someone turns around? Check. Well, everything seems to be in order…oh wait, just one more thing – not a simple retread of The Shining or The Amityville Horror with younger leads and no originality…oooh, I’m so sorry, you’re missing the final qualification for your certification. The best I can do for you is offer you a license to franchise with the high risk of no one caring.

Oculus is a pretty cool name for a movie, I’ll admit. But when you realize the word has an architectural origin to refer a round opening at the top of a domed ceiling, and then you see the movie Oculus, you realize that’s all it is – a cool title. There is very little depth to Oculus. Told in a fractured and parallel timeline, Kaylie (Karen Gilian) and Tim (Brenton Thwaites) are siblings who in 2002 watched their parents slowly driven insane by a strange and haunted mirror that led their father (Rory Cochrane) to kill their mother (Battlestar Galactica’s Katee Sackhoff) forcing Tim to kill his own father in a sort of self defense. Young Tim is sent to a mental facility for treatment until his 21st birthday while Kaylie grows up determined exonerate her brother by capturing and killing the spirit that attacked her family. Flash to 2012 (not 2013 or 2014, to give you an idea of how long this film sat in cinematic purgatory), Tim is released from the psychiatric hospital with the recommendation of his doctor solely on the evidence that when he dreams of his terrible past, at least it is he who pulls the trigger in his dreams. What?!?!

Tim is released to his sister’s care. Their family’s belongings liquidated in an estate sale, Kaylie has managed to secure the deadly mirror from an auction house, and she still retains the title to their childhood home. With the mirror back in her late father’s office, Kaylie reveals to Tim that through an elaborate setup involving multiple cameras, timers, alarms, and other “precautions” she believes she will be able to capture the mirror’s deadly abilities and powers on camera and be able to then use this evidence to prove Tim did not kill his father but that a spirit afflicted their family and left him no choice.

Oculus is not a deep movie, nor is it a confusing movie, but director Mike Flanagan goes out of his way to make you think it is both. Jumping frantically from one timeline to another, he accomplishes the task of disorienting the viewer, but not in a good way. The final act plays out in a distorted Kafkaesque fashion with no real satisfaction at the end. When the lights came up in the theater, I heard an audible huff of disappointment from the other patrons.

In the end, Oculus seems to be a victim of its own self-importance. This has all been done before and done much better. The scares are few and far between, and while I commend the film’s choice to follow in The Conjuring’s footsteps and emphasize terror and fear over gore, it mostly doesn’t work in this case…that is unless you have a fear of mirrors and shattered glass. In which case, prepare for scares-a-plenty! C

Oculus is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 45 minutes.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

ImageThe films of director Wes Anderson have obtained a cult status with a shrewd and astute base of fans. His niche style of film making is chocked full of trademark set designs, deadpan dialogue, and plots that can be best described as Norman Rockwellesque…on acid. However, with 2012’s Oscar nominated film, Moonrise Kingdom and this year’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson is looking to expand his fan base not by sacrificing any of his trademark oddities but by writing brilliant characters who are far more developed than those in his previous films.

Moonrise Kingdom was a nearly perfect cinematic experience, and it was Edward Norton’s portrayal of Scoutmaster Ward that made the film so enjoyable from start to finish. Anderson capitalizes on this character-driven amusement again with Ralph Fiennes as M. Gustave, legendary concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is the story of a fictional Eastern European hotel located in the republic of Zubrowka and the concierge, Gustave, whose reputation elevated it to its legendary status.

Told in flashback through the eyes of Gustave’s trusted lobby boy, Zero Moustafa to a young author, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a murder-mystery story that takes place between the World Wars where the Hotel becomes the constant in an ever-changing European continent.

Starting out in 1985, the story jumps and bounces through three main time periods. An aging author (Tom Wilkinson) addresses the audience to discuss how a writer is able to tell great stories. He mentions that great writers establish credibility with those with great stories so that they can write them. The film then jumps to 1968 where an adult Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) recounts the outrageous and fabled story of Gustave to a young author (Jude Law) about his own life under the charge of the famous M. Gustave.

Gustave is established as a gifted concierge who sacrifices often to bring joy and comfort to the guests of The Grand Budapest. When an affluent and elderly guest (a barely recognizable Tilda Swinton) passes away, the future of the hotel and the future of a rare renaissance painting are in jeopardy as the selfish family of the deceased are pitted against the preservationist Gustave.

Fiennes is excellent as Gustave, emphasizing the importance of identity, culture, and heritage in a time of extreme instability. His fearless adventures find he and Zero in all kinds of situations where they must rely on a slew of imaginative supporting characters all from the mind of Anderson.

The Grand Budapest Hotel, like many of Anderson’s films, has a fabled tone and novel-style plot progression. It also has spirit and heart that are on full display. Never has an Anderson film had more fun with foul language, dark subject matter, and true human consequences. This elevates The Grand Budapest Hotel to the height of Anderson’s achievements. A-

The Grand Budapest Hotel is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 40 minutes.