Mirror, mirror on the wall, is Oculus the scariest movie of all? Unfortunately, no it isn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the movie and was thoroughly entertained throughout. It is mind-bending, thrilling, and most importantly, has a strong, red-headed female in the lead role (my kryptonite). Oculus just wasn’t as scary as I was expecting, and certainly doesn’t stand out from such recent horror gems as Sinister, The Conjuring, In Fear, and You’re Next, mostly due to the fact that the images of the ghosts never seriously scared me. Glowing eyes? Meh, I’ve seen scarier on Buffy. It also didn’t help that I was seriously concerned about the dogs in the movie, but don’t worry, you never see anything bad happen to any of them. Why do filmmakers continue to hurt animals in horror movies?! I’ll save that rant for another day.
After turning 21 and completing a psychological evaluation, Tim (Brenton Thwaits) is declared a “healthy adult” and released from the mental institution into the care of his older sister Kaylie (Karen Gillan). Quickly we discover that the siblings are at odds about the facts of a traumatic event in their childhood, the torture and murder of their mother at the hands of their father. Like Mulder and Scully, one of the pair is a believer (Kaylie) and the other is a skeptic (Tim). Kaylie believes their father was influenced by a haunted mirror with a long history of brutal murders. However, due to Tim’s institutionalization and psychological help, he thinks the events can be explained more rationally: their father snapped and the haunting images he and his sister saw weren’t real but were the results of mental trauma.
Based on a promise to destroy the mirror when they were reunited again, Kaylie decides to stage their old house for an experiment, which will prove once and for all that the mirror is haunted. Using numerous cameras, thermometers, alarms (to remind them to eat and drink), and fail safes, Kaylie seems to have the perfect conditions for a scientific… errr… poltergeist experiment. Now all she needs is her brother for backup. At first, Tim wants nothing to do with the project because he thinks it will interfere with his recovery. However, due to some spooky occurrences, his mind is quickly changed. Flashbacks, which give more details about the events surrounding their parents’ deaths and the dreaded mirror, begin to play side by side with the present timeline and slowly the truth is revealed.
The things I enjoyed most about this film were the mind tricks (such as the scene with the apple and the light bulb) and the parallel storylines, showing past and present events occurring at the same time. I’m not a horror expert, but I hadn’t seen this done in a film before and it was a cool, original effect.
The acting in the film was also very good. The strength of the entire cast was especially important since there was such an overlap between the child and adult versions of the characters. Karen Gillan, of Dr. Who fame, especially stood out and was my favorite part of the film. She expertly displayed her character’s intensity and determination to get to the heart of what happened to her parents without making it seem over-the-top. Gillan will be taking the world by storm over the next year. First starring in Oculus, you will next see her as the supervillain Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy! She even shaved her beautiful red hair for the part. Brenton Thwaites also has a huge year in the making; he will next star in The Giver and Maleficent. Thwaites character has the most depth of anyone in the film and he did a great job with the material, especially as a skeptical contrast to Kaylie.
My main problem with the film was the depiction of the ghosts. It’s one thing to have a low-budget horror movie, but when the graphics for the ghosts also look low-budget and take the audience out of the movie, that isn’t a good thing. I would have preferred the filmmakers NOT show the ghosts for most of the movie and instead use that money to make a seriously scary villain that shows up at the end… maybe someone like Mr. Boogie from Sinister or The Gentlemen from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (“Hush”); both of whom I still cannot Google pictures of for fear they will come out of my computer screen and kill me. When I think of some of the scariest scenes in movies, such as the hand clap scene in The Conjuring and the opening scene of Jaws, they were successful because they left more to the imagination; Oculus should have done the same.
Regardless of my issues with the film, if you have are looking for an entertaining horror movie to see this weekend, you won’t be disappointed by Oculus. Just don’t be surprised if you aren’t completely terrified when you leave the theater. What I can promise is that you will be anxious to talk about a few of the scenes on your way to the car, especially the scene at the end.
My Review: B