Oculus Mike Flanagan
Published Apr 10, 2014This is a film about an evil mirror. As in: its plot revolves around a murderous spirit living inside an ancient looking glass, and the family that it tears apart. This is, in other words, a movie with a hopelessly unoriginal premise. How many times have we seen (and read) this story? And yet, largely due to a strong cast and a stronger script — apart from a series of silly speeches about psychology at mid-point — Oculus takes this yawn-worthy set-up and manages to infuse it with an electric buzz.
This creepy take on the "haunted antique" genre does its level best to bewilder its audience through the use of an ingenious layering technique, simultaneously playing out events from the main characters' childhoods and their present-day attempt to destroy the mirror. The catch: it seems that when this mirror hangs on someone's wall, the people in its vicinity invariably go mad, kill people, harm themselves, surrender all connection to reality. So, as their own anxiety and confusion begin to steamroll as the film races towards its grisly conclusion, the flashbacks become indistinguishable from the present, leaving them (and us) panicky and disoriented.
Featuring unsettling performances from Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica) and Rory Cochrane (CSI: Miami) as a married couple bedeviled by their new showpiece, and the impressive Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan as their young children, the film's flashback sequences work beautifully. Less successful are the early scenes featuring the now-grown children Karen Gillan (Doctor Who) and Brenton Thwaites (best known for playing a guy with a terribly sophisticated name on Home and Away).
The whole "killer mirror" thing comes across as unavoidably silly in their initial conversations, and we don't quite become involved with their revenge story until their reality begins to unravel, about 45 minutes into the film. But, when their sense of time and space begins to fray, so does ours; somehow, a movie about a mean piece of furniture left my head spinning and heart pounding.