Release: Friday, April 11, 2014


So there I am, in the middle of a crowded movie theater, sweaty with anticipation and feeling particularly crotchety with my ever-increasing skepticism towards what was about to be put before my eyes. Able to stuff those concerns down in the cup-holder, I instead choose to embrace this new opportunity to feel my thoughts getting all provoked and stuff. As the screen turns blue and the forthcoming previews start playing, a last-second thought crosses my mind.

“Wait, what am I about to watch again?”

Last year, entries like The Conjuring and You’re Next stepped up and did some significant remodeling to the house of horror, and while both movies weren’t without their critics, they both managed to sell tickets hand over fist — it all got to a point where the question was prompted as to whether the genre has potential for greater prominence in the mainstream film industry. An Oscar for a horror film? The horror! Both of the above-mentioned were much-talked about events almost on par with recent Marvel blockbusters, even as the calendar moved forward. Something about these releases in particular got people talking. In fact they were so good, they proved that my distrust of horror was really just a distrust in the horror that I had seen. My interest in shitting my pants in public places, apparently, still lied dormant.

There have likely been a number of original horror entries that have trickled their way out to the public since those two releases, but Oculus has emerged as the new buzzword in 2014 as far as creative ideas are concerned. As it turns out, this second film from Mike Flanagan has more in common with last year’s blockbuster horror films (if ever there were such a thing) than mere popularity. The Conjuring‘s emphasis on high-quality scares can’t be denied, while James Wan’s indie counterpart You’re Next has an obvious influence on the way Flanagan’s story refuses to bend to convention.

Two siblings, Kaylie and Tim Russell (Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites), suffered a traumatic childhood when their parents were both brutally murdered in their home. Their father’s purchase of a large, decorative mirror seemed to be the cause of the problems and 11 years later, a fully-grown Kaylie is determined to return to the house and destroy the mirror once and for all, simultaneously proving that this object was responsible for the death of her parents, and exonerating her brother, who was wrongfully arrested on the scene on that fateful day. Tim finally is released from a psychiatric ward at the start of the film and Kaylie immediately proposes the idea to her emotional brother, who doesn’t share her enthusiasm in shattering the object at first. He mostly wants to forget about all of that.

Kaylie manages to eventually persuade Tim to not only help her destroy a mirror, but destroy a possessed mirror — the convincing about the second part takes Kaylie a little more effort. In the years since the murder, she has done extensive research and subsequently uncovered a horrifying truth about the mirror — IT’S ALIVE, and it wants to hurt people. Becoming obsessive, Kaylie sets up an elaborate system of cameras in the old office where her dad had fallen under its spell all those years ago, and then sets about trying to catch the mirror in the act of being a bastard. It could be an all-night process trying to capture the event on film for the world to see, so Kaylie’s come prepared with food apples and bottled water.

As the night progresses, the atmosphere devolves into something akin to a nightmare, with a series of unexplained events unfolding one after the other. The longer they stay around the mirror, the more the siblings’ mental state deteriorates, with the mirror looking more and more to be the culprit. Details and memories from a haunted past come spilling forth as the two work together to try and stop history from repeating itself. With Tim recently being in a psychiatric hospital, he is inclined to deny everything that Kaylie is telling him about this mirror, including her back-up plan to destroy the thing. Even though she has a convincing rig already in place — including a ridiculous pendulum-like contraption involving a ship anchor and a pulley system — Tim believes his sister is unhealthy and is trying to rationalize her troubled past. This is something he believes he has learned to do in the hospital. Conversely, Kaylie doesn’t agree with the way Tim now thinks and believes him to be a completely different person since receiving ‘treatment.’

Their ideological conflict is only the beginning, however, as they are both confronted with frightening memories and even more disturbing hallucinations that leave them constantly disoriented both physically and with regards to their sense of time. Kaylie’s system of alarms going off every half hour or on the hour helps to combat some of this, but as the film develops even her tactful methods prove ineffective when reality starts blurring with the fantastical.

Oculus grabs the viewer by the (eye)balls and leads them on a psychological journey, one that is rendered both exciting and challenging to endure as an emphasis is placed once again on characters and exposition, rather than on bombarding the viewer with lots of poorly-lit action and demonic-looking CGI. There’s plenty of the latter to be had here, too, but ‘sci-fi/supernatural thriller’ isn’t where the film plans to stake its claim. It may be horrifying to watch, but it is far more fantastical and shares more qualities of a psychological thriller than that of a true horror entry. But this is all just semantics; no matter what technical label it receives, Oculus is a potent and highly original screenplay co-written by Flanagan and Jeff Howard.

However, Flanagan could also have been setting sights on staking claim in ‘Most Frustrating Movie’ territory, given the by-now infamous conclusion that he chose to write. While it won’t be necessary for me to ruin anything for you by giving away details, I need to make the comment that in order for the conclusion to work, you might want to make a mental note that this could very well be the first film in a franchise. . .or the first film of a two-part, much larger story, before sitting down to watch. Knowing this and being prepared for an abrupt conclusion will off-set much of the shock and surprise that could be experienced come the end of this, and even having such expectations won’t spoil any surprises along the way.

Slapping a big asterisk on Oculus‘ conclusion may not be something every theater attendee is going to be willing to do, but in order to protect one’s viewing experience as much as possible, this isn’t an unreasonable recommendation. And that’s all it is, too — a recommendation. Clever, beautifully-shot and well-acted, Oculus turns out to be a nifty surprise, and something I’m probably going to remember for awhile even though I instantly forgot it’s name before it started. . .

The film features a funhouse of effective scares, but perhaps the most effective horror moment of all is the revelation of a bloated Rory Cochrane in his role as Alan Russell, the father. Dazed & Confused fans, shield your eyes. That part is crazy.


3-5Recommendation:  Inventive, suspenseful and crafted with an unusual eye for detail, Oculus will work much better for some than it will for others. For those interested in something different than the typical haunted-house story, this is certainly one to consider, especially as this film in particular leaves the door open to future, and in my opinion, quite likely sequels. Also, Rory Cochrane. That is all.

Rated: R

Running Time: 104 mins.

Quoted: “Hello again. You must be hungry.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

27 thoughts on “Oculus

  1. Good review, Tom! I thought this film was decent enough. Definitely the best horror of the year so far (at least of what I’ve seen/heard about). I thought the execution was pretty great, but I didn’t love the ending or the the lack of development for the parents. Still, I’ll take this over Devil’s Due or Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones aaaaany day. Lol.


    • Like I just said to Josh above, I’m very sorry I’m getting to this comment almost two months late! 😦

      At least I’m getting back around to it, though. (This makes me want to go seek out almost all reviews I’ve written and see which comments I’ve missed, b/c I’m willing to bet that there are a lot!)

      I’m with you on the ending. I really don’t like it. If this is the entirety of the story, I almost feel cheated. Here’s to hoping that we may end up getting Oculus 2. I don’t usually cry for sequels, but in this case I really am. 😀


      • You know, you’re right–in this case, a sequel could be good. We’ll see what happens. And hey, no worries on late replies. We have opposite problems: you’re delayed on comment responses, I’m delayed on catching up on other blogs. Together, we would be the perfect blogger!! Bahaha. 😉


    • Almost two months later, and I see this comment. Haha. I was actually turned back here after reading another review of this film lately and was curious to see what I said. Then I saw comments here I never got to. My apologies on that!

      This one was great. I really liked it, aside from a very very iffy ending. And then, the ending is only that way if we consider this to be the be-all, end-all movie. I’m not sure if there’s going to be a sequel but I really want there to be one to help make the conclusion a little more logical. As of right now, it’s a bit mystifying


    • Yeah I kind of had the same reservations for it myself. It was kind of a tell-tale sign when I forgot what I had just bought a ticket to see as the previews were rolling lol.

      Thanks man! Glad you enjoyed.


  2. Saw this 3 weeks ago and knew absolutely nothing about it. Walked out pleasantly surprised. Really well written and not overly reliant on cheap scares and loud sounds. Nice review.


    • Thanks! I was keen on it as well, obviously. Initially I wasn’t though, the ending really hit me the wrong way at first. But, now I’m thinking it was a stroke of genius. . . .

      It’ll be interesting to see if and when the sequel follows. in the off-chance nothing else comes, I might have to re-evaluate my rating hhaha


  3. Nice write up! Looking forward to this film. I really enjoyed Flanagan’s Absentia and I think he has a good grasp of what works within the genre. I am glad the film has been getting pretty decent word of mouth.

    As far as horror getting the prominence in the mainstream, some films have stood out and many consider Silence of the Lambs a horror film and it indeed won an Oscar but I think when the stars are aligned in the Oscar community and in the horror genre we can get some very good pictures made that can almost transcend the stigma and trap-hole that horror flicks get caught in. The Exorcist and even The Omen won some Oscar gold at one point.

    Great job on the review, Tom! I’ll let you know once I’ve watched it! Thanks 🙂


    • Cheers man, I look forward to your feedback then. 😀

      VERY good call on The Silence of the Lambs; can’t believe I overlooked it. 😛 That film truly benfitted from an A-list cast, too. As did The Shining. So I guess there have been a few notable horrors but I can’t really think of all too many as of late. The two I mentioned last year I suppose are just the freshest things on my mind when it comes to memorable stories/scripts.

      I look forward to seeing Absentia now, for sure!


      • I think you will enjoy Absentia for sure! And as for recent horror films, yeah, many (going back many years) have not achieved the status or craftsman-ship that Oscar winners like Rosemary’s Baby, An American Werewolf in London, Aliens and even The Fly have.

        If memory serves, Coppola’s Dracula won 3 major awards for costumes, make up and sound. Since then, I am not too sure. I know some have won a few here and there. I may dig around a bit more on that, And yeah, The Shining benefited from a great cast for sure! That movie still rules!


  4. Great work, Ace!! The ending didn’t bother me all that much but I think I’m in the minority here : )



    • Thanks ipes!!!!!

      1) How’d you like the new name?

      2) Glad the ending didn’t bother you, it could be genius and sometimes being in the minority means you are in fact genius

      3) I’m glad to finally have another intelligent ‘horror’ flick.


  5. Hmmmm decent praise here! This is something I would like to see if it makes its way here eventually! Great review Tom, had a few giggles!


    • Yuppp yup! THanks Zoe!! 🙂 🙂

      The film is good. I like refreshing horror films, even if they border more on fantasy/sci-fi than horror. It is plenty suspenseful, no matter what the actual genre is. I recommend !!!!


  6. Glad you liked it as well! Was not perfect and did lack in the scare department but it did its job! I feel folks at the screening I attended were left disappointed because the radio hosts tried to pass this off as being as scary as The Conjuring…which I also felt it fell a bit short it! Still noteworthy. AND WAY BETTER THAN THE NEW HORROR MOVIE BEING RELEASED THIS WEEK (The Quiet Ones).


    • Oh man by the sounds of it The Quiet Ones really sucks! WHich is a bit of a disappointment. Fortunately I have already gotten a decent horror under my belt with this one, thank goodness.

      Nah, it wasn’t scary per se. But it had its moments of disturbing-ness. . .and there were some good performances that sold a couple of good jump-scares. Call me a fan of it, and eagerly awaitng a sequel (which there better be one, or I go back on my word about being okay with the ending).


  7. I found this film to be, or pretty damn close to being, perfectly edited…glad you feel the same. You might’ve had a tad more fun with this one than I, but I’m happy you enjoyed it so thoroughly :). Oh, and thanks for the shout-out!


    • Good note on the editing man. It was par excellence, and largely responsible for the film’s power. I really did enjoy it, but I didn’t initially. At first I was really peeved off by the way it ended, but I think the more I look back on it the less ambiguous it is and more open it is for sequels. However, if the sequel never materializes, I will become annoyed. Lol!


  8. I am interested in seeing this one. I’ve put it off so far but you’ve convinced me I don’t need to wait any longer. I loved The Conjuring and this does sound similar in some ways. Great review man!


    • Thanks Keith. Happy to report back your anticipation is pretty justified. Hopefully it will also be lived up to. Went back on forth on it myself but then landed on gut instinct, and my gut said this was a different kind of ‘horror’ film. I’m always up for that


  9. Had a bunch of fun with this. Maybe more than I was actually scared, but that seems to be a lot better than what most of these horror movies turn out to be nowadays. Good review Tom.


    • Right?! Exactly Dan, glad you pick up on this too! I got pumped over recent flicks like The Conjuring etc. . . this, took awhile for me to settle on the way it plays out but I think I’m happy with it! And yeah, I’d say it’s more accurate to say it’s a fun movie rather than a ‘scary’ one, although there are some pretty chilly moments I thought. .


Comments are closed.