Karen Gillan is Visceral in Oculus
As far as horror films go, far too many rely on cheap tricks and startle tactics. While there is no shortage of cheap trickery and startle tactics, Oculus employs them in a different manner. Rather than being the primary driver of the tension, they are side effects. The primary driver of the tension is the fact that nearly every event is heavily foreshadowed or flat out stated before it happens, but how and when these things happen was usually a surprise. The film also drove the tension by keeping the audience, in some respects, as clueless as the characters. Halfway through the film I was having a very hard time keeping track of what was really happening, and what was not. It is a technique that is difficult to pull off without it feeling like the director was just trying to fool the audience with a surprise twist; I believe Mike Flanagan managed to pull it off with Oculus. He also did well to limit the gore to only what was necessary, keeping those moments visceral and effective.
Ten years ago, Alan Russell (Rory Cochrane) bought an antique mirror for his new home office. Shortly after that, things started to go very wrong, for him, his wife Marie (Katee Sackhoff), and their kids Tim (Brenton Thwaites, Garrett Ryan/Young Tim), Kaylie (Karen Gillan, Annalise Basso/Young Kaylie). The events that follow result in Alan brutally torturing and murdering his wife, and then being shot and killed by Tim, his son.
Tim is committed in a psychiatric hospital, while Kaylie is left to fend for herself in the foster care system. Year later Tim is released, having been “cured of his delusions”, and Kaylie is there waiting for him, with the mirror, determined to clear his name, and destroy the evil living inside.
It is a simple plot with numerous twists that is, while not entirely original, has some unique elements and a great deal of creativity. We can forgive the unoriginal elements, as they are rich fodder for this genre. The real gem in this movie is Karen Gillan. Her performance was fantastic to watch, and she has a way of drawing you in that many performers do not. Although in all honesty, it did take me a little while to accept her American accent. Every now and then, you hear the Scottish slip though, or maybe that was just me, knowing her accent to so well I could pick it out. Accent aside, this film could not have worked without her propelling the story. Also, while I am commending performances, Annalise Basso, and Garrett Ryan did an outstanding job. Young performers can be hit and miss, usually all we can hope for is an acceptable performance, and that expectation is significantly reduced in a horror film. Here these two did an outstanding job.
Oculus is not going to be for everyone, but if you do go, I think you can have a good time, unless you love apples, I still can’t eat them. All in all the hits outnumber the misses leaving a film that will entertain, and be re-watchable too. 7 out of 10