“You promised me you would never forget what really happened,” says Kaylie (Karen Gillan). “I was 10 years old,” replies Tim (Brenton Thwaites) to his older sister who wants his help in proving the deaths of their parents 11 years ago were actually due to a supernatural entity which resides in a centuries-old mirror in the horror film Oculus.
Earning his release from a mental hospital after turning 21, Tim is looking forward to finding a job and starting his life as well as reconnecting with his sister, Kaylie. It seems, however, that his big sister has other plans. For the past 11 years Kaylie has been investigating the history of the Lasser Glass and what she’s found since its first documentation is that it’s been involved in 45 mysterious deaths. She’s convinced that their father’s descent into madness and the subsequent murder of their mother was caused by an evil entity living in the mirror. Kaylie intends to prove it and find a way to destroy the mirror once and for all, but she needs her brother’s help. Unfortunately for Kaylie, as a result of years of treatment Tim is convinced that as young kids they made up and imagined all the scary images to mentally protect themselves from the horror they had survived.
Still, Tim’s curious and doesn’t want Kaylie to go into their old house with the mirror alone, so he joins her one night in hopes of proving to her it’s all in her mind. With cameras set up recording the mirror, alarms set to go off every half hour to wake them out of ghostly hallucinations, and plants distributed all over the house (apparently the mirror demon isn’t a tree hugger), Kaylie and Tim set out to document and destroy the possessed vanity glass for good.
Creepy but uneven, Oculus is an old-fashioned ghost film that seems to borrow heavily from such classics as The Shining and The Amityville Horror but comes up short in producing any real moments of terror. The performances from the majority of cast are stilted, and especially disappointing is the lead Karen Gillan who portrays the adult Kaylie as a wide-eyed, obsessed demon-hunter without ever conveying any kind of fear or really any emotion.
Another big disappointment is the performance from Rory Cochrane as the father who in flashback scenes is shown being slowly possessed by the entity in the mirror and must convey the changes the possession makes, taking him from a loving father and husband into a gun-carrying, stalking killer. There’s hardly any difference in his demeanor except for seeming to be distracted by gazing into the mirror over and over again and, oh yes, forgetting to go grocery shopping. Oh the HORROR of an empty refrigerator…please.
The film constantly goes back and forth from the present day ghost hunt to the events 11 years ago that caused the parents’ deaths, even at times intersecting and crossing over with the adult Tim passing the younger Tim on the stairs or in the hallway. This ruins any sense of rhythm and pacing to the film, which is essential to building suspense.
Two performances that do stand out and deserve some praise are delivered by the young actors who portray Kaylie and Tim in the flashbacks: Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan. They convey true concern as their parents fall under the control of the evil entity in the mirror and later terror as their own parents become their mortal enemies.
Even with their performances however, Oculus is still missing the impending sense of dread and real ‘hairs standing up on the back of your neck’ chills necessary to make it anything more than just a mediocre haunting at best.
Oculus was directed by Mike Flanagan and is rated R for terror, violence, some disturbing images and brief language.
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