Oculus: My Sci-fi Favorites Get Gory
The horror thriller, Oculus, is out on April 11th and depending upon your level of horror consumption and susceptibility, you might never want to look at antique mirror again. Oculus didn’t do it for me unfortunately. I just want to preface this review with that—I am a hard sell with horror. But, Oculus cast two female sci-fi actors, who are famous in that genre for their iconic roles as Battlestar Galactica’s Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff) and Doctor Who’s Amy Pond (Karen Gillan). It is the casting of these women that drew me to the screening.
Oculus is your basic cursed object plot. The set-up: a brother and sister reunite after she has finally gained access to the cursed mirror that she believes to be the reason her family was torn apart in her youth. The story unfolds in two timelines. One is of the original incident when the mirror was first moved into the home of the kids, Kaylie (Gillan) and Tim Russell (Brenton Thwaites). The other time line depicts the siblings as adults seeking answers. The filmmakers use both timelines to give the viewer the complete story.
The twentysomething brother and sister are introduced first. That is most likely to hook in the target audience. Tim has been just released from a psychiatric facility where he had treatment for an incident in his childhood. Kaylie works at an antiquities auction house that has just sold a very old mirror—the same one she blames for her parents dementia and her brother’s commitment. Under the guise of taking the mirror out for repairs, Kaylie installs it in her childhood home—in the same room and position—as it had been years ago. Somehow Kaylie convinces Tim to help her film and document her exploration and revenge on this cursed mirror. She is thorough and has researched the history of the mirror. And while a “data dump” is never the high point of dialogue, the content was interesting and gruesome enough to keep my attention.
Kaylie and Tim discuss their childhood during their investigation. Here the two timelines start to bleed together. I thought the story of the children to be the more compelling of the two frankly. The adult siblings didn’t have much chemistry. But the two kids, they worked well together representing the terror, neglect, and resilience of kids surviving while their parents go insane. Marie (Sackhoff) and Alan Russell (Rory Cochrane) played their parental parts well. I particularly enjoyed seeing Sackhoff deteriorate mentally and get the full ugly, gore treatment. Cochrane’s character used rage and compulsive habits, nail biting, as the indicator of the mirror’s influence. As the movie goes on you can see the number of bandages on his fingers increase.
Ultimately, the cutting back and forth between the child and the adult threads prevented me from getting any tension from either perspective. I felt this technique only provided a few startling moments without developing any overwhelming terror. The ending was foreshadowed over and over again lessening its impact significantly. Even though I was not impressed, the young woman next to me was terrified and covering her eyes. Go figure.
I did enjoy seeing Karen Gillan standing in front of yet another crack in the wall and I hoped for one statue in the auction house storage room the be revealed as a weeping angel. That said it’s apparent that I was not able to see Gillan much beyond her Doctor Who character. I fared better in that regard with Sackhoff.