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Review: Oculus


After low-budget horror Absentia, director Mike Flannigan returns to the genre with Oculus.

A young brother and sister, Kaylie (Karen Gillan) and Tim (Brenton Thwaites) attempt to prove that their father's murder of their mother was caused by an evil phenomenon that inhabits an antique mirror. In their attempts to destroy the antique the mirror's power is truly showcased and could potentially lead to their demise.

Flanigan's screenplay is ambitious yet problematic. Oculus is a tale with several layers which results in a watch that both intrigues and confuses and one that I would argue confuses us into thinking its smarter than it actually is. In Oculus, the mirror has the power to control its victims whilst the victims believe themselves to be doing something completely different (ie. Tim thinks he's outside making a call to 911 when he's actually just sat in the doorway thanks to the mirror's control). So for much of the film we are not sure if we are watching what the characters are actually doing or what the mirror is making them do - it's a clever narrative device but overused to the extent where we cannot comprehensibly understand what is actually happening.

This combined with continuous flashbacks that are gradually intercut with present day makes for a somewhat messy style - for example blending the timelines and seeing the young Kaylie run around with her older self is a strange device that only adds to the confusingly layered structure of Oculus. Perhaps the biggest plothole comes in the form of Kaylie's preparation to defeat the mirror. In attempt to avoid falling prey to every horror stereotype imaginable, Kaylie has prepared a method to defeat the mirror in every eventuality - whether it be light sources that do not require electricity or a timed swinging anchor that will smash the mirror if they become distracted - she's got it covered. However, the one issue that this meta-horror heroine forgets is that the mirror can simply control them to do anything it pleases - from standing in front of the timed-anchor to switching the cameras off. So ultimately Kaylie and Tim's quest is a pointless one as it appears that the mirror can never be defeated.

Whilst there might be some doubt into the narrative strength of Oculus, it's clear that Flanigan is a promising figure within the genre, showcasing a strong eye for suspense and uncomfortable tension. There is an excellent scene where Kaylie is reunited with the mirror in an antique warehouse where she notices the reflection of three covered statues begin to move behind her. The tension is unbearable as the ventures to remove the sheets and this one scene serves as one of the standout scare sequences. There is also some grim horror imagery as seen in flashback when the mirror makes Kaylie's father torture her mother.

There is never a dull moment in Oculus, however there is many a confusing one. Whilst there is some tense direction, grisly imagery and much to be admired in Flanigan's screenplay, Oculus is not quite as clever as it seems to think it is.

★★
Review 172483533348822208
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