‘Oculus’ Review

Published 7 months ago by , Updated October 7th, 2014 at 1:36 am,

Oculus Reviews starring Katee Sackhoff and Karen Gillan Oculus Review

For fans of the genre, the unique stylistic approach to haunted house horror will be a novelty of sorts – just don’t be disappointed when it all ends with a fizzle instead of a bang.

In Oculus, two young adults are still trying to move past the horrific and traumatizing death of their parents many years before. For Tim Russell (Brenton Thwaites), recovery means leaving a psychiatric hospital and reacclimating to life in the real world; for his older sister Kaylie (Karen Gillan), “recovery” means tracking down an old mirror that used to hang in their childhood home – a mirror that Kaylie is convinced houses the evil spirit responsible for the deaths of their parents.

By holding Tim to a promise made in their youth, Kaylie scores herself one night in their old home to test out the theory of the haunted mirror. With decades of research and a house full of ghost traps and recording devices all at her disposal, Kaylie tries to lead Tim through a demonstration of the mirror’s terrible power – while keeping them alive long enough to prove their findings. But daylight is a far away, and the eyes of the mirror see all the way into the deepest recess of the mind – to memories best forgotten.

The latest low-budget horror film pickup by Blumhouse Productions (Paranormal Activity, Sinister, The Purge), Oculus attempts to stretch the acclaimed 2006 short film Oculus: Chapter 3 – The Man with the Plan into a feature-length scare-fest – with middling success. While the concept and look of the film are unique and crisp (respectively), scrutiny of the overall storyline and larger meaning of the narrative quickly reveal some glaring deficiencies. Short version: like looking through a one-way mirror, there’s something to see here but little to actually reflect upon.

Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites in Oculus 2014 Oculus Review

Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites in ‘Oculus’

Mike Flanagan (Absentia) directed the short and feature versions of Oculus, with newcomer writer Jeff Howard fleshing out the initial short story by Jeff Seidman and Flanagan. The concept actually approaches haunted house horror in a fresh way, using a two-pronged story (Kaylie and Tim’s experiences with the mirror as both children and adults) to give the film some nice stylistic distinction. The experiences of past and present blend seamlessly together as Kaylie and Tim relive the horrific night of their parents’ deaths; thanks to the nature of the evil entity at the center of the story, the filmmakers are able to bend the rules of reality to create some unique moments of shock and fear. For the most part, this ghost’s mind-games are fun to play.

The narrative of Oculus appears to have substance and meaning, but it is really just smokescreen, an illusion that evaporates as soon as the movie is over. It’s almost as if Flanagan and Howard never really found a way to expand upon the initial short film, as so much of the narrative feels implied or vague rather than fleshed-out and connected. The best horror stories are those which act as dark metaphors for real-life events or experiences, but this film never achieves that resonance. There is also little narrative drive, questionable character motivations, confusing logic to follow – and when it’s all said and done, the long stare into the looking-glass reveals nothing but a hollow center underneath all the elaborate surrealist wrappings. We get an unnerving journey, but the ultimate destination is pretty unimpressive.

Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan in Oculus Oculus Review

Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan in ‘Oculus’

The lead roles played by Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica), Rory Cochrane (Argo), Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy), Brenton Thwaites (Home and Away) and young actors Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan are all solid enough – even if their respective characters are underdeveloped. There seems to be a half-hearted underpinning about family tensions, infidelity, etc., underscored by a half-formed mirror metaphor – but given the surreal stylistic approach (slipping in and out of time periods, memories and illusions) the mechanics of the story’s execution eclipse much of the subtext and meaning of each scene. The actors seem to be aware of character layers that simply don’t come across in the narrative – worse yet, elements of the characters that are teased initially never get fully developed (Kaylie’s obsession, Tim’s instability, the mom’s jealousy, the father’s aloofness, etc.).

By the end of the film (which fancies itself to be a shocking twist) there is little impact or horror to be felt, beyond the sense of having witnessed creepy or strange events. You won’t exactly go home thinking twice about the mirror in your own home; this ghost story is not that effective, or that memorable. Still, for fans of the genre, the unique stylistic approach to haunted house horror will be a novelty of sorts – just don’t be disappointed when it all ends with a fizzle instead of a bang.

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Oculusis now playing in theaters. It is 105 minutes long and is Rated R for terror, violence, some disturbing images and brief language.

You can listen to the Screen Rant Editors discuss the film on Episode 139 of the Screen Rant Underground Podcast.

Our Rating:

2.5 out of 5
(Fairly Good)

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TAGS: oculus

13 Comments

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  1. thats unfortunate, looked creepy from the trailer.

  2. Might give a watch on Netflix, but not high on the priority list.

  3. Saw it and enjoyed it. If anything, it’s a good enough movie with replay value. Did creep me out and I can’t wait to watch it with my friends again when the dvd comes out. The only thing that disappoint me is that I wish they play upon the aspect of whether they’re crazy or not a little longer.

  4. The days of truly great horror seems to be over. I found nothing scary whatsoever in this movie. 2.5/5 is about right, except I would give it .5 less.

  5. I saw it and it was pretty good. Diffenently better than some recent horror movies. Its not one of those ever-scare-is-a-jump-scare movies and is really creepy. The cinematography was great, loved it. The way they merge the past with the present was really cleaver and added a lot to the suspense. It wasnt very scary but it was suspenseful and had this dread all over it. Id give it 3.5.

  6. I would suggest going to see the film for yourselves. I went into seeing this film with little to no expectations. I was very entertained. I almost felt like it didn’t have to be as good as it was and I normally dislike most horror films. This was more of a thriller and it was great as far as nearly making you feel as if you were going insane right along with the characters.

  7. Movie was donkey crap.

  8. It’s a shame that ‘Oculus’ won’t do very well with today’s horror crowd.
    No cheap jump scares. No found footage.
    Just a well-crafted, genuinely good spooky film made with style and originality. Not since ‘The Conjuring’ (which cheated itself in the final reel) has there been a quality horror film for aficionados of the genre.
    Well done, Mike Flanagan. I’ll look forward to your next genre outing!

  9. I really enjoyed this film. Kept me entertained & wanting to know what was gonna happen next. If anything my biggest complaint was tthe ending left me feeling depressed lol no happy end at all for any1. And that mirror was a big biatch!

  10. I just wanted that mirror crushed in 1000 pieces! God damnit! Otherwise good movie though, but yea, as mentioned.. That mirror unarguably deserved a smack in the face! Would have been so pleasing to watch!

  11. Very disappointing. The movie had potential in the premise but failed to deliver the scares and creepy factor. The only redeemable part of the movie was how the past was intertwined with the present and Karen Gillan. I wish they elaborated on the motive and origins of why the mirror is doing what it does. Also,the ending was so predictable and lame horror fans there is no need to even see this one.

  12. STOOOOPID movie. Not scary at all. C’mon, man!

  13. Stupid dumb review