Review By Alicia Glass
Studio: Relativity Media
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Mike Flanagan
A woman tries to exonerate her brother of the suspicion of killing their parents, by proving that the crime was a murder of supernatural origins.
Honestly, Oculus is one of the best horror movies I’ve seen in recent years, although that isn’t necessarily saying much. Karen Gillian as the adult Kaylie Russell, determined to prove that that unholy mirror is the actual cause of all their siblings troubles, gives a very fine believable, almost manic, performance. Brenton Thwaites as her brother Tim does a swell job as well, desperately wanting to believe all the stuff the nut-nut factory crammed into his skull, instead of the thought that it’s an eeeeevil mirror coming to get us. The movie centers on the story of the two siblings, trading off in younger flashbacks and adult determined-to-finish-this interleaved scenes in a very smart, understandable way. So let’s open the horror closet and see what we make of Oculus!
We begin with adult (more or less) Tim getting out of a “mental health facility” and being picked up by his sister Kaylie. We learn rather quickly that Tim was roundaboutly accused of the murder of his parents but since he was a minor when it happened he was sent to a rehabilitation facility instead of jail, where of course they filled his head with reasonable, logical explanations for what actually happened to the Russell parents. Adult Kaylie is having none of it, however. She spent her free years tracking the mirror that she believes caused the horrors that happened to her family, and indeed, she happily tells Tim that she’s gotten her hands on the mirror in question and wants to take it back to their old house for a final confrontation and hopefully destruction. For the Russell children promised each-other that they would come together when they were adults and destroy the cursed mirror that tried to kill their whole family.
Kaylie has spent a very long time researching the history of the mirror and its various owners, and the horrors that were visited upon each and every last one of them before the mirror changed hands again. She’s rigged the old Russell house with all sorts of monitoring equipment, supplies and even set up a “kill switch” to automatically demolish the mirror in case it all goes horribly sideways. Tim is frightened already and immediately begins remembering what happened to his parents as soon as Kaylie convinces him to reluctantly remember his promise and come help kill that bloody mirror. And so we the audience are treated to some of the most disturbing instances any child should ever have to endure, in flashbacks of what happened to the Russell family.
Software engineer Alan Russell (Rory Cochran) moved his wife Marie (Katee Sackhoff) and their two adolescent children (Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan) into a new house, and ignorantly purchased an antique mirror to decorate his new office. (The office seemed nice enough to me, but throwing that mirror in there seemed rather ostentatious and like it didn’t belong in there at all.) Things continue along their merry way until shortly after, both parents begin acting very strange. Mother Marie starts having visions of her own body decaying and becomes completely unable to take care of the children, much less really communicate at all. And Father Alan, well, he apparently can’t keep it to himself and becomes seduced by a malevolent spirit that seems to live in the mirror, this awful ghostly apparition of a woman with mirrors for eyes. The children try desperately to keep it together while their father locks their mother in chains in the bedroom and then himself in his study, to do who-knows-what-nasty with a ghost. All the plants in the house die, the dog disappears, food runs out and the neighbors won’t help. The children determine, despite being frightened beyond belief, that the only way they can stop the evil going on in their house is by confronting it themselves.
Well, obviously solving it themselves when they were children didn’t work out too well. Kaylie has resolved as an adult to stop the mirror at any cost, not reckoning just how high that cost could be. And poor Tim, after years of being convinced that there’s no such thing as any evil mirror that caused him to shoot his father, is back to impotently confront his younger self and the ghostly demons of his and his families past.
Gillian brings forth a cheerful determination for her character, left over from her Doctor Who days, that is a joy to watch. It was rather fun to see Katee Sackhoff play a character that quickly dissolved into a monster, and for Rory Cochran to pull a Shining-like performance for the father. The history of the mirror and all the people who owned it was fairly thoroughly looked into, but not the why and how of the evil curse living in it, which was a bold choice for the filmmakers, and one I appreciate. I of course don’t want to give away the ending, but it was rather like the end of Stephen King’s Rose Red, another very fine sendup of a haunted house story. The house, or in this case the mirror, that eats people gives no explanation as to its evil motives, and that just somehow makes it all that much more terrifying.