Oculus is a Tense and Terrifying Experience

Oculus

20140316042141!OculusRelease Date: April 11, 2014
Cast: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Katee Sackhoff, Rory Cochrane, Annalisse Basso, Garrett Ryan
Director: Mike Flanagan
Studios: Intrepid Pictures, Blumhouse Productions, WWE Studios
Distributor: Relativity Media
Genre(s): Horror, Psychological Thriller

Rating: ★★★★☆
Review Spoilers: Low
IMDbRotten Tomatoes Wikipedia

I don’t know why my mom likes to tell people I like horror movies. I really don’t. I’m squeamish as hell and get sympathy pains for character that end up terribly mutilated. Hell, after years of watching Phantom of the Paradise, I still flinch when they tell Winslow they’re removing his teeth. Either that, or they offend me on so many levels that I’m still mad about it years later. Paranormal Activity, I’m looking at you.

Now, I have a few movies that are horror that I list among my favorite movies and will recommend to people. I love The Evil Dead trilogy and Reanimator. The Cabin In The Woods was one of my favorite movies of 2012, and White: The Curse of the Melody is so astoundingly dumb that I can’t help but watch it every Halloween. After seeing Oculus, I think I’m going to add it to the list of horror movies I like.

The plot of Oculus centers around the Russell siblings who suffered a great tragedy more than a decade before when their father tortured and killed their mother. The youngest Tim (Brenton Thwaites) has been institutionalized since because he shot his father in defense and claimed that an antique mirror in their house drove their father to do everything he did. He’s released on his 21st birthday, convinced that the mirror was just something him and his sister made up. Kaylie (Karen Gillan), however, is not so convinced and sets out to prove that the mirror was the one that caused everything to happen.

I was rooting for her to be right so much. [gotchamovies.com]

I was rooting for her to be right so much. [gotchamovies.com]

The thing that’s remarkable about this movie is there isn’t a lot of jump scares. Rather, it’s the atmosphere that makes everything scary. From the first moments of the film, it’s like there’s a spool that’s winding up and the tension on the line grows tighter as the characters grow more unraveled. When it finally breaks, it’s the most distressing thing ever. I left the theater feeling completely on edge, like I had experienced the character’s distresses with them.

The film is not told linearly and relies a lot on flashbacks to tell both the story of what happened to the Russells eleven years ago as well as what is happening to them now.  It’s in those flashbacks that we get the best two performances of the movie: Katee Sackhoff and Annalise Basso.

Most everyone in the film does great and I loved the absolute drive and grief-stricken heartbreak Gillan brought to the part of Kaylie (as well as a fairly solid American accent that didn’t waver), but Annalise Basso does an amazing job of showing why Kaylie has this drive. She was a normal kid who was thrown into a bizarre situation of having to protect her brother from something unseen. It’s realistic too! Kaylie doesn’t become a sudden badass. She’s still scared for her life, but she steps up to make sure her brother is safe from the sudden threat of their father. It’s that experience that carries over to Gillan’s performance and makes both a delight to watch as the stories of young and old Kaylie intertwine.

Katee Sackhoff is what really sells the movie for me though. Since Battlestar Galactica, I’ve been saying that Sackhoff needs to be in everything. As Marie Russell, Sackhoff really gets to show off her chops as the character slowly goes from loving housewife to primal beast in less than two hours. She gets completely into the role and I just want to watch more horror movies like this if it meant Katee Sackhoff gets to star in all of them.

Marie's reflection in the Lasser Glass. [reeltalkonline.org]

Marie’s reflection in the Lasser Glass. [reeltalkonline.org]

Of course, that doesn’t mean the film is without awkwardness at some points. Thwaites is sort of the weak link of the film, which is kind of sad since the film tries to present it as his story. If they had just let it be Kaylie’s, it would have strengthened it in the long run. There’s also just some parts of the film that come across really ridiculous, like the apple scene. Such is the life of a horror film, I guess.

Final Thoughts:

Even with its faults, Oculus manages to be a suspenseful and terrifying film that relies more on story than cheap scares or mutilation, though there is some of that. Fans of Gillan and Sackhoff will be especially thrilled with their performances and it’s easy to see a future for Basso based on her performance in the film. Parts of the film do get confusing, but that’s to the film’s credit rather than it’s detriment. Whether you’re a fan of horror or not, Oculus is definitely worth a shot. Just be wary of creepy antique mirrors you might see afterwards.

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