Oculus is not a typical horror film. If you’re expecting another film like The Conjuring (2013), don’t come knocking here. Oculus does not wish to scare you every 5 minutes. Its menu has different things to offer. It wants to build an atmosphere of dread. Not short-term jumps but long-term creeps. It thinks the mind can be a scary place. It wants to tell an interesting story with mildly complex characters. If you expect these dishes to be served, you will leave satisfied.
The film works largely due to Amy Pond’s performance. I mean Karen Gillan’s performance who plays the protagonist – Kaylie Russell. She is a naturally cinematic presence and her talent is palpable. She infuses the film with urgency and gives it the emotional gravitas required for us to be vested in the goings-on. Brenton Thwaites plays Tim Russell, Kaylie’s brother. They had a traumatic childhood when their parents committed acts of violence which changed the course of their life.
The siblings wish to find out the secret behind the haunted mirror which Kaylie believes is the cause of evil that destroyed their family. She sets up an experiment by installing cameras in the room with the mirror and record the evidence. Director Mike Flanagan could have easily made this a found footage film, I’m glad it didn't resort to cheap gimmicks. Instead we get a film intercutting between the past and the present, constantly playing with our expectations of what’s real and what isn’t.
The Russell parents are played by Katee Sackhoff, who was last seen in Riddick (2013) and Rory Cochrane, who looks like a cross between Liev Schreiber and Jeffrey Wright. The anticipation of what the parents did and how the kids dealt with the situation is set-up well. Most of the scares come due to the shocking revelations. The horror film formula of reliving the events of the past is compellingly played out.
Then there is the mirror. The most pivotal character in the film and definitely the scariest. Another pivotal character, well not exactly a character, but absolutely vital to the film's success is the use of sound. Especially when not to use any sound.
What did not go down well with me was the ending. Not that it is a bad ending; I just didn’t want it to turn out this way. Maybe that’s the reaction the filmmaker intended but this doesn’t mean I have to appreciate it. For me, horror films must have an ending that give you some sense of relief by the end of the turmoil. You can spend 150 minutes putting characters through agony and pain but please give them 10 minutes of release or reprieve. If not a happy ending, at least some sort of consolation. Sure, they wanted to set up a sequel, which I will most definitely be watching, but an epilogue giving an agreeable farewell would be nice.
I loved The Conjuring but it’s strange how expectations are mismanaged by the audience due to a good thing. Oculus can be compared to films like Frailty (2001) and Session 9 (2001). These films are heavily under-valued. The genre these films works in is closer to the expertly made psychological horror trilogy of Repulsion(1965), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), and The Tenant (1976) by Roman Polanski. Where we don’t know what to believe and who to believe. Where the protagonists are haunted by the ghost of their own mind. That itself is a scary scenario.view less