I’ll openly admit that I’m not the biggest fan of horror movies. Don’t get me wrong, I have seen a few of the really good horror films, like ‘Scream’ and ‘Evil Dead’, but for the most part they’re just not my thing. Also, it might have something to do with the recent trends that have been going on in horror films, like the numerous remakes of horror classics that, for the most part, end up being rather terrible or when these films favor gore and jump-scares over legitimately scary moments. However, if a film does get pretty good reviews from critics and if it looks interesting, then I might see it. ‘Oculus’ is a good example of that. This film is a feature adaptation of a short film, ‘Oculus: Chapter 3- The Man with the Plan’, which was directed by Mike Flanagan, who returns to direct this adaptation of the story. Now, I haven’t seen that short film, but this film’s premise, as well as its solid reviews from critics, interested me… but in the end I think I would have been better off with the short film. That’s because while there are some good things in this film, for the most part I’m pretty meh on it.
Eleven years earlier, Tim Russell (Brenton Thwaites) was sent to a mental hospital after an incident where he shot and killed his father Alan (Rory Cochrane) after witnessing him kill his mother Marie (Katee Sackhoff) but also for believing that the whole thing occurred because of a supposed supernatural entity that resided within an antique mirror in their house. After he is released from the institution, he reunites with his sister Kaylie (Karen Gillan) who has had to live on her own following the incident. While Tim looks to move on from all of this, Kaylie isn’t ready to leave the past behind. In the years since he was taken away, she has been investigating further into the matter and has discovered similar incidents have occurred to the previous owners of the mirror. With this in mind, she looks to prove that Tim and their father were innocent and that the mirror was responsible for the murders. However, this doesn’t turn out to be as easy as they think it will be, and they soon find themselves trying to figure out what is real and what’s not.
Now like I said, there are some good things in this movie. For one thing, it is well-acted from all who were involved. Gillan, Sackhoff, Thwaites, and Cochrane all did good jobs and I did find Gillan’s character to be a pretty interesting horror film female lead; someone who is a bit obsessed but nevertheless committed to the goal she wants to achieve. However, the biggest standouts of the cast are actually Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan, who play the younger selves of Gillan and Thwaites’ characters. These two kids steal the show and in the end, the best thing about this whole film is its cast in general. There are some pretty creepy scenes throughout the film, particularly in the second half of the film. Without really giving anything away, it is at this point where the flashback scenes to when Kaylie and Tim were kids start to ‘merge’ with the present day and it makes the whole thing very interesting on a psychological level and I will admit that the ending did sort of catch me off guard.
But unfortunately, a lot of this film falls rather flat in many areas and many of the good aspects of the film that I just mentioned are part of a ‘double-edged sword’. I said that the best scenes in the film are towards the second half of the film, and that’s because the first half really drags on. It might just be a case of translating a short film into a feature-length film, but for the first hour or so, not much happens here. A certain scene in the trailer involving Sackhoff’s character and the mirror is the moment where the movie does get interesting. However at the same time, it also gets a bit confusing because the past and present start to blend together so closely that it comes to the point where it jumps between these two periods of time just seconds apart over and over again. It’s not too ridiculously complex but at the same time it means that the narrative structure for the film is a bit of a mess. And then we come to that ending… I did say I didn’t expect it but that’s because I haven’t seen a lot of horror films. I saw this with my friend Matt, who has seen more horror films than me, and I agreed with him in that the ending was kind of a cop-out and from what I’ve been hearing, it’s intended to set up for a potential sequel. Ehh…
I really want to like ‘Oculus’; it’s an interesting premise and it has a really good cast to back it up… but unfortunately it has a couple of noticeable flaws, and most of them actually do stem from some of the good aspects of the film. The film doesn’t get interesting until the second half and that is after a rather slow first half. There are some genuinely creepy moments in the film and it gets pretty interesting on a psychological level, but at times it also gets a bit confusing as the past and present start to come together at once, resulting in a pretty messy narrative. Finally, while the ending did catch me off guard, it also sort of feels like a cop-out with the purpose of continuing things through a sequel. I mean, if you do like horror films, then you’ll probably like this film. However, as someone who isn’t that big a fan of the genre, this one didn’t really do much for me and that’s a shame because I was actually sort of looking forward it but ultimately, it comes off as a bit of a disappointment.