Cert: 15 / 103 mins / Dir. Mike Flanagan
As you know I'm not a massive fan of contemporary horror, so it's always a pleasant surprise to be… well, pleasantly surprised, especially at the cinema. Mike Flanagan's Oculus has its storytelling roots firmly in Victoriana, with a tale (and you're well aware it's just one of many) about a haunted mirror. From the off, there's very little doubt that the mirror is actually haunted, so the screenplay doesn't have to waste much time with in-universe sceptics.
While Karen Gillan's Kaylie spends five minutes giving her brother (and the audience) a potted history of The Lasser Glass, the film doesn't feel the need to over-explain its motives; indeed the manifestation of evil in the film - a delightful young lady named Marisol - is only one of the mirror's many weapons against its victims. The mechanics of the haunting (the mirror's "blast radius", effectively) and its methodology are shown in tantalising segments as the story takes place in two timeframes, revealing the past and the present in an ever-closing tandem until they're happening at the same time and you'll be lucky not to go cross-eyed trying to work out what's real.
Which isn't to say the film is overly complicated. The story itself is a 'classic' of the genre, but written in such a way that it doesn't hinder your enjoyment. There are occasional shades of 'quiet, quiet, LOUD', but Oculus never relies on them for scares, instead un-nerving the audience by lingering too long on the activities of the living characters. There's great acting all around here, especially from Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan as the young Kaylie and Tim, respectively. And who'd have thought that Starbuck was Amy Pond's mum all along? (for the record, both Sackhoff and Gillan are convincingly terrifying when the film calls for it)
But the film's masterstroke is the reality which it languidly toys with. As I said, there's no doubt that the events in the Russell household are happening, but there are frequent signposts that the haunting is psychological, and a Twilight Zone-esque ending is deftly avoided by convincing the audience that no-one's imagining anything.
While it will never be more than a mid-budget horror flick, Oculus has no ambitions above its station, and is quite content to be pretty much the best film it can. Despite its washed-out villainess, the film is far and above the current vogue for having a manky old lady padding around an unlit cellar, leaving children's toys left right and centre. Well written and well performed, Oculus needs to be seen to be hesitatingly believed.
But can it avoid the sequel trap?
Yes, but the trailer makes it look far schlockier than it is.
I'd say it definitely does.
You're going to get more scares out of a larger screen, but watching on BluRay wouldn't hurt it too much.
I will, but probably only once, and not for a while.
I know that Kaylie didn't undergo the treatment for her trauma that Tim did, but does she really think that returning him to the house where it all took place the day after his release from a psychiatric hospital, and with the actual mirror itself there, is going to end well for anyone?
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
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