Ok, 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.