Directed by Mike Flanagan
Cursed mirrors as plot devices have certainly had a bad reputation over the past few years. It was only five years ago when Alexandre Aja’s lackluster Mirrors underwhelmed viewers everywhere, and let's not even bring up Tarsem Singh’s goofy Snow White adaptation, Mirror, Mirror. So when up-and-coming director Mike Flanagan premiered his “cursed mirror” follow-up to his successful indie hit Absentia in the Midnight Madness programme at the Toronto International Film Festival this year, there is no denying there were serious doubts that this movie was going to deliver the goods.
Luckily, Oculus has surpassed expectations and managed to “mirror” the same energy shown at the Insidious TIFF premiere three years ago as it is truly Midnight Madness’ most intense and awe-inspiring highlight in 2013.
Based loosely off Flanagan’s 2006 short Oculus: Chapter 3, the film follows two siblings who have reunited after an unspeakable and supernatural tragedy took the lives of the parents eleven years prior. When the younger sibling, Tim (Thwaites), is released from a psychiatric hospital, he is hopeful of starting a new life with the help of his older sister, Kaylie (Gillan). Unfortunately for Tim, Kaylie has different plans and holds him to a pact they made years ago to destroy a 300-year-old antique mirror in their old family home that she is convinced was responsible for the death of her parents and all of its previous owners.
Fully prepared to take down the cursed mirror, Kaylie convinces a very skeptical Tim to help her; but soon after her best laid plans go horribly awry, the duo are literally forced to re-live the massacre that took place years ago while trying to avoid the mirror’s malevolent trickery long enough to stay alive.
If you are tired of seeing paranormal films that incorporate found footage tactics or are just rehashed remakes full of cheap boo scares, then Oculus is the film for you. Flanagan has gone above and beyond with his latest directorial effort for Oculus is one of the most well-crafted, original and visceral horror films of recent years; and the fact that he is able to entertain and terrify viewers through the ultra-tight confines of an ordinary-sized house makes this film even more impressive.
To give away any of Oculus’ unique scares and how it manages to incorporate time travel in a way that hasn’t been seen before would truly do the reader a disservice. As perplexing as the film can be at times, the creativity and effort put into certain pivotal set pieces need to be experienced - completely unspoiled.
Oculus also stands out from the rest of Midnight Madness’ entries on the acting side as every cast member delivers a strong performance. Rory Cochrane and Katee Sackhoff are extremely noteworthy while Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites are convincing as siblings and very likable to the point where it scares you whenever they’re in peril. However, the real stars are Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan, who play the younger Kaylie and Tim. These two childhood actors should be commended as they truly are the heart of the film.
Unlike Absentia, which failed in giving the audience a fulfilling payoff, Oculus succeeds in having one of the most moving conclusions this reviewer has seen, and the shocking climax is guaranteed to make you gasp and jump out of your seat. After the successful premiere of Oculus, genre fans should not be surprised that Mike Flanagan is bound to be a future household name in horror.
4 1/2 out of 5