Friday, February 6, 2015

Movie Review: Oculus (2013)

Oculus (2013) directed and co-written by Mike Flanagan

Oculus is a movie that definitely benefits from knowing little to nothing about the plot before seeing the film. It's about a sister and a brother dealing with what she thinks is a haunted mirror. It's intense and engaging, though some people (like my wife) may be turned off by the family going crazy and hurting each other. I won't say that didn't bother me too, but it is a horror movie and as such should have content that bothers the viewer. It didn't bother me enough to make me not want to watch it or turn it off while I was watching. If you want to see it without spoilers, quit reading here, go watch it, come back, and give feedback if you feel necessary. The spoiler review is posted below this virtually spoiler-free trailer, which is a rather refreshing change for trailers. The child creepily reciting a poem and the blood running down the window are a bit cliche but aren't in the actual movie.

The story follows two period in the life of the Russell family: (1) when they first move into a new home for which they've bought new furniture, including a fancy old mirror that eventually drives the parents crazy with terrible consequences, and (2) eleven years later, when son Tim is released from psychiatric treatment. He's spent eleven years dealing with the fact that he shot his dad under extreme duress. Of course, the psychiatrists have given him rational explanations and evasions to account for what happened to the family. Daughter Kaylie has spent her eleven years tracking the mirror's history and its location. She works for an auction house where the mirror has just been sold. It won't be delivered for a few days, so she contrives to "borrow" it. She takes it back to their home and plans to prove the mirror has some evil psychic influence that caused her family members to go crazy and kill each other.

The first act of the movie sets up the premise. Kaylie has stocked the house with lights, cameras, and other supplies. Her plan is to have objective documentation of the mirror's evil powers. The supplies include plants and a dog, both of which she thinks will die when the mirror starts to drain their life force. Tim doesn't believe in any of that, saying contaminated water killed the plants and dog eleven years ago. The story goes back and forth between the two, leaving it somewhat ambiguous whether there is any psychic phenomenon or not. Scenes of the present are inter-cut with scenes from moving in that show ominous foreboding but no actual psychic phenomena.

The end of the first act shows psychic activity clearly. A bunch of the plants have died. The cameras in the room with the mirror have been moved around. When the siblings check the recordings, they see themselves moving the equipment before leaving the room, which they don't remember. The story goes on with more scenes where knowing what's real and what isn't becomes harder and harder for Tim and Kaylie. This works really well up to a point, that point being when the viewer gets confused about what's real and what isn't. The film establishes early on that the recording devices aren't fooled, they just record what is actually happening. That's a great rule but it gets broken on a few occasions, making it unreliable. By the last third of the movie, I was still engrossed by the story and the characters but had no clue what to believe in anymore. The ending snaps back to reality and works like a Greek tragedy, creating a downbeat but satisfying ending, which is more than you can say for films like Prometheus.

The movie is intense and engaging. I enjoyed it while I watched and would recommend it to horror fans who aren't really squeamish about domestic terror and some incoherence.

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