It’s been a slow 2014 for horror films, with only Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones coming out in January. Because of this, I’d been looking forward to Oculus for months, hoping and praying it was up to snuff. And then an amazing thing happened, I went and saw it and it was very, very good. And because it’s an original concept and not a sequel, I loved it even more. Oculus is a pretty simple story about a haunted mirror allegedly responsible for the deaths of dozens of people, including the parents of Kaylie and Tim. Ten or so years after the mirror wreaked havoc on their childhood, Kaylie is determined to prove it was the cause of everything and to destroy it (with Tim’s reluctant help).
Oculus tells a simple tale and doesn’t try to over-complicate its haunted mirror premise. The mirror does evil and dangerous things to those who possess it, creating pure madness. And you know what? That’s all the story there needs to be. Madness is a fantastic angle in any horror film because when experienced by those onscreen, if often has the same effect on the audience. Madness begets madness. Plus, there are no rules for madness - it can really go any which way. As the characters experience the effects of the mirror, you as an audience member experience the same things and feel the same emotions. Some of the best stories in horror involve madness (Psycho, anyone?).
The true greatness of Oculus lies in the narrative. Kaylie and Tim both watched their parents suffer from the mirror and now years later they purposefully subject themselves to the same evil in the same house they grew up in. The film weaves Kaylie and Tim’s childhood story seamlessly with their adult story. Never before have I seen anything like this in horror and it left me in awe. One moment you’re watching Kaylie and Tim running up the stairs as children and the next moment it’s them walking the stairs as adults. The editing is flawless; the scene never switches, the stairs are the same as they were years ago, and their movements then and now mirror each other. (Pun intended.) This effect created drama, suspense and a creepy mistrust for reality. I found myself constantly wondering, “Am I seeing a memory from the past or watching what’s currently happening?” It was truly incredible and engaging to watch as the stories flip-flopped throughout the film. You have to see it to believe it.
The acting is great across the board and the writing was well done. The characters were compelling and while many criticized this film for being too slow, I thought it moved at a perfect pace. The only room for improvement with this movie would have been an increase in the scare factor. There are definitely jumpy, disgusting, terrifying, gory, and creepy moments but I found myself wishing the scare factor was taken up a few notches.
Oculus is doing one hell of a job saving horror. A fantastic film masquerading as just a silly movie about a haunted mirror, its narrative structure and ability to make the audience second guess reality kept me interested until the end. Horror island is in big trouble with this supernatural force. Looks like Bates isn’t the only one going mad on the island.
If you liked Oculus, you might also like Paranormal Activity, Drag Me to Hell and Sinister.