Director: Mike Flanagan
Writers: Mike Flanagan, Jeff Howard, Jeff Seidman
Starring: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Katee Sackhoff, Rory Cochrane, Annalise Basson, Garrett Ryan
Horror films these days are a dime-a-dozen. Good horror films can be hard to come by. Films like Oculus, however, are as rare as they get.
Within horror circles, Oculus is a relatively unknown film. Put simply, this is a complete injustice. This film is truly a master-class in horror film-making, and easily one the most innovative and inventive to be released in recent years. After a quick read of it's plot you might think it all sounds a bit daft; a brother and sister set out to prove that their parents were murdered by a mirror called 'The Lasser Glass'. It may sound far-fetched, but Oculus' central focus is a unique idea which is explored exceptionally well in a piece of spectacular film-making.
The film's story construction is startlingly elaborate, as the past and the present are told simultaneously. This film makes no apologies for requiring your full attention as its two story-lines fluidly weave in and out, sometimes overlapping - Oculus is a film which has been choreographed rather than directed, and shows some extraordinary agility as it continuously but confidently juggles its two narratives through the use of some inspired cinematography. Our stories are shown in parallel during the film's beginning but, as it progresses, these two timelines begin to collide more and more, and the edges of each become increasingly blurred. It is a mesmerising film to watch, but concentration is vitally important.
Oculus begins with many gaps, but only fills them in slowly, denying the audience a chance to put the pieces together too soon. Eventually, a full backstory is artfully embedded within the plot line, sidestepping the need for any awkward or misplaced exposition. Despite its intricacy, however, and its refusal to give away anything too early, Oculus is pleasantly straightforward. No interpretation is needed by the film's end, and no time is needed to ask 'why' or 'how' once the credits roll; instead, what you see it what you get - a refreshing feel in a time when horror films seem to be becoming increasingly obscure and abstract.
Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites give brilliant performances as the troubled Russell children, particularly Gillan whose Kaylie Russell is fiercely determined and driven, having thought of every possible angle for her exposure of the mirror. Their youthful counterparts, Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan are also fantastic. They are often part of the film's more harrowing scenes, and their portrayal of shared terror is sometimes uncomfortably good, amplifying the film's hopelessly tragic undertone. Rory Cochrane, the father to Kaylie and Tim (Thwaites), also deserves a mention for a great performance which is dripping with anger and threat. It is through this incredibly committed cast that we witness the true horror of Oculus - the disintegration of a loving and happy family.
The best performance, however, is arguably submitted by The Lasser Glass itself. Oculus' most remarkable achievement may be its ability to turn a wordless piece of furniture into one seriously intimidating horror antagonist. The mirror which torments our two heroes throughout the film comes with its own personality and a presence which reverberates throughout the body of the film, despite having no dialogue (other than that channelled through others), no movements, and a relatively limited amount of screen time. Rather, the mirror's power is demonstrated through the actions of its 'co-stars' and through a haunting invasion of flashbacks and hallucinations.
Oculus is one of the most intelligent and interesting horror films of the past decade, and is enjoyable from start to finish. It is brutal and tragic story, heavy with tension, and often devastating but always entertaining. It is a shame that it is not more widely known within the horror film community, but is hopefully one which will generate more of a following in the coming years.
In one line: Oculus is an endlessly intelligent film which tells two stories simultaneously, both of which are utterly gripping and tragically shocking - a must watch.