Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Oculus (2014): Review

Oculus is a 2014 supernatural horror film. Directed by Mike Flanagan (Absentia) and starring Karen Gillan (Doctor Who). The film is based upon Flanagan’s earlier short film Oculus: Chapter 3.

Oculus is the story of a haunted antique mirror handed down through the ages and eventually passing into the ownership of the Russell family. The story is told from the perspective of siblings Kayleigh (Gillan) and Tim and is split between the modern day and the early 2000s. In the modern day Tim has recently been released from prison and is reunited with his older sister who has been able to track down the sinister mirror from their childhood. She reveals that her plan is to conduct an all-night paranormal experiment to prove that the mirror is responsible for countless deaths, including their parents. At the same time, events from the pair’s childhood are told in flashback, revealing the true power of the mirror and, perhaps, a way for Kayleigh and Tim to break the curse.

The first problem with Oculus is that it’s a hugely out of date premise. The premise of a haunted mirror is something right out of a 50s b-movie or Snow White and is really hard to take seriously in the modern age when compared to modern genre classics like Ring (98) or Pulse (01). This is made worse by some seriously poor acting and a poor script to work with which does Gillan no favours in her post Who career. Her attempts to portray a psychologically fractured character in the style of a Jack Nicholson or James Brolin fall completely flat and only serve to remind you of those superior performances/films.

The other problem with the film is the split narrative. Playing somewhat like a horror Blue Valentine (2009), the film struggles to build momentum in both timelines as Flanagan can’t seem to decide when, and how to focus on each respective period. One wonders whether the film might have worked better being set primarily in the earlier timeline as the child actors are significantly more competent and the actor portraying the father actually does do quite a good Jack Nicholson impression. These earlier scenes, along with the hallucinations in the modern timeline, were the only parts of the film that managed to summon any kind of dread or suspense in building towards the film’s “shock” ending which, incidentally, felt like a pretty lousy payoff.

While I certainly appreciate any attempt at an original horror property as opposed to a sequel/reboot, taking an extremely tired premise and giving it a fresh lick of “faux-paranormal activity” paint is simply not good enough. It’s a tedious plot that genre fans have seen countless times and is dragged down further by mediocre actors and a frustrating structure. Oculus is a poor effort for Flanagan and a shaky start to Gillan’s Hollywood career, definitely one to avoid.

* 1 Star

What did you think of Oculus? Did the split narrative work for you?


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