The 400-Word Review: Oculus
By Sean Collier
April 14, 2014
As furnishings go, mirrors are fairly scary. They look like another place, but backwards! Sometimes you think you see weird things in them! Children have created nursery rhymes about how nebulous, evil forces might emerge from them to kill you!
They’re much scarier than, say, couches. So mirrors have popped up in horror time and time again, often as an opportunity for a particularly cheap scare (every movie character owns a mirror that can be opened to access a hidden medicine cabinet, and closed to reveal a looming madman); occasionally, they’re the very subject of creeping horror.
Such is the case with Oculus, the latest Insidious wannabe to hit the beleaguered horror market. Over the years, people keep buying this creepy mirror; a little while later, they murder everyone around them, turn up dead or both. That tally of carnage includes Alan (Rory Cochrane) and Marie (Katee Sackhoff), whose bloody demise occurred with their children on hand.
Those kids are all grown up, and Tim (Brenton Thwaites in the present, Garrett Ryan in flashback) is discharged from a mental facility, convinced that his parents’ death was the product of a failing marriage (and very much not the result of a creepy mirror). Sister Kaylie (Karen Gillan in the present, Annalise Basso in flashback), however, has dedicated her life to researching, verifying and eventually destroying whatever evil lurks in the offending looking glass — and she’ll need Tim’s help, of course.
There are several long stretches of Oculus that work. An mid-game chunk where Tim and Kaylie debate the past is energizing; a later twist that has the two questioning what’s real is scary and disconcerting. The original tale, featuring the younger incarnations of the siblings, is an effective horror flick in its own right; told in flashbacks that fill up a good half of Oculus’ modest runtime, it’s a story that could’ve scared audiences unadorned by any trip to the present.
Sadly, these strong points are dulled by a muddy structure that can’t commit to one tactic. Pacing is non-existent, as the characters’ objectives and the arc of the narrative stutter and shift irregularly from the first reel to the last. It’s a shame; strong performances and a handful of fresh ideas — despite the hokey premise and a boatload of horror tropes — could’ve led to an unabashed winner. As it lies, Oculus has bite, but is distractingly uneven.
My Rating: 6/10
Aggregate Rating on CriticsChoice.com: 76/100
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark