OculusTitle: Oculus (2014)
Director: Mike Flanagan
Runtime: 104 minutes

In this day and age it’s very hard to find a good mainstream horror film. When the first trailers for Oculus came out, I thought, “Wow, this looks terrible”. Then South by Southwest happened, and the rave reviews were coming out of the woodwork. The old saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover” quickly came to mind, so I had to see Oculus in the theater.

When the WWE logo popped up in the opening credits, I had to let out a groan. They have yet to deliver a solid horror entry. They usually miss the mark on everything except nudity, but I heard this was solid, so I kept myself positive. The film opens with Tim (played by Brenton Thwaites) as he talks to his shrink in the mental institute about how his father tortured and mutilated his mother, and how he had to shoot his father. His sister, Kaylie (Karen Gillan), picks him up and reveals that she has found the mirror from their family home way back when, and that before she takes it where she needs to for her job, she’s going to reveal that there is an evil spirit within the mirror.

The plot holds a lot of promise. Kaylie has the entire house set up as if it’s a Paranormal Activity film. She has followed the murders of the mirrorm and figured out all of its tricks. See, the mirror alters the person’s reality. In the past, people have starved, or have been confused on what they have done, or are doing. It’s a great idea and really reminded me of the book House of Leaves, which I always bring up, but in this case, instead of a house playing tricks, it’s a mirror. This mirror drains the life force from plants and pets to widen its reach outside of the room it’s in.

This sounds awesome, I know. There’s a ton of promise, but sadly the film never delivers on it. See, the film combines the present experiment with a timeline of them as kids. This is where the film gets crazy because it is constantly shifting between these two timelines. It’s never confusing, but it adds to the insanity of the plot line. There’s a problem with this idea, though: the film already told you what happened in the past, so now it’s just retreading itself for the sake of confusion.

The creepy factor never really comes into play until much later when some spirits finally start to show, so that first hour drags on with tension being built, and the plot being laid out. I can only imagine what this film could have been, which is a shame. The cast does a decent enough job but I really didn’t care about them at all so that hour of character and tension building did nothing for me.

It sounds like I’m totally destroying the film, but it isn’t that bad. It’s also not as good as some people have made it out to be either. It falls into this weird area where it competently does what it needs to, but drops the ball on pushing it where it needed to go. Mike Flanagan does a great job of directing here, and I’m sure trying to piece everything together took a lot of time and energy because the film isn’t really a low budget, lost footage film by any stretch.

Part of me wants to tell you to go see Oculus in the theater because it supports “R” rated horror films, which thankfully have been on a rise as of late. The film also offers some really great ideas, and some decently creepy moments. Then there’s the retreaded plot line, and the most abrupt/predictable ending I’ve seen in ages. So in the end I have a heavy heart when it comes to giving this a star rating because this is the most mixed feelings I’ve had on a film in a long while.

two_and_a_half_stars

Chris Ranson
Film Critic at Cinefessions

Chris was raised on horror films, which gave him a deep love for the genre, especially its most quirky and offbeat titles (like A Nightmare on Elm Street 2). This love quickly turned into an obsession for cinema in 1997, when he decided he needed to see every major theatrical release. Video games (JRPGs), reading (anything but fantasy), and reality television (Survivor) are just some of his other passions. He’s been with Cinefessions since 2013, and has been writing reviews all over the internet for the past twelve years.