REVIEW: OCULUS / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: MIKE FLANAGAN / SCREENPLAY: JEFF HOWARD, MIKE FLANAGAN / STARRING: KAREN GILLAN, BRENDON THWAITES, KATEE SACKHOFF / RELEASE DATE: JUNE 13TH
A grim, gory and unsettling suburban horror which reaches into the depths of human fear to reveal only darkness, director Mike Flanagan's new film traverses similar ground to his previous feature Absentia, looking to past trauma and familial relationships for inspiration once again with a disturbing tale revolving around a grand and ominous Bavarian black cedar mirror.
Though the crux of what Oculus is dealing with is genuinely upsetting – abuse, infidelity and mental illness – Flanagan remembers to have a sense of humour towards the start of the film before it gets into truly distressing territory. He presents a brother and sister wildly at odds with each other when it comes to their family history, who prod and poke at one another like a highly strung Mulder and Scully. Karen Gillan delivers exposition at an exponentially fast rate as Kaylie, the Mulder type with strong beliefs. Tim blames the deterioration of family circumstances on his father doing awful things whilst Kaylie believes supernatural phenomena are to blame. A cursed mirror that Kaylie has tracked through time to prove her theory provides the menacing centre to which they gravitate, as they undertake an experiment eleven years after tragedy pulled them apart at their family home, with Flanagan switching between time frames, looking to both the past and the present of the siblings for clues.
The Shining is a big influence here, with a father locked up in his office working, and the confined location of the family home being where most of the terrorising takes place. Flanagan uses grotesque visuals sparsely, relying on the relationship between siblings Kaylie and Tim to be the arena for the horrifying events that play out. Given that both are inclined to a distorted view of reality, you’re never quite sure of what’s real or what's not, but either way you choose to interpret it, it's grisly.
Disorientating fever pitch is reached by the end as the two timelines intertwine thanks to neat editing and crisp sound effects (the crunch of glass in one scene being particularly effective). With solid performances – especially from Katee Sackhoff and newcomer Annaise Basso – and compelling subject matter, Oculus is a suspenseful, tight and wonderfully executed horror which proves Flanagan’s flair for the genre and marks him as exciting talent to watch.
Expected Rating: 6 out of 10