DVD REVIEW: OCULUS / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: MIKE FLANAGAN / SCREENPLAY: MIKE FLANAGAN, JEFF HOWARD / STARRING: KAREN GILLAN, BRENTON THWAITES, KATEE SACKHOFF / RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 20TH
Mike Flanagan’s understated Oculus takes the Paranormal Activity formula and goes in an altogether different direction. While mirrors in horror have failed to reflect anything other than dreary movies, Oculus is a stylish and modern antidote to the genre’s pomposity and excess.
Following the strained relationship of siblings Kaylie and Tim, you slowly piece their dark history together, parasitically linked with a haunted antique mirror. Whether or not the mirror was itself evil would have been better left ambiguous, Flanagan instead telling a psychological chiller; the uncanny element of making the inanimate frightening could have been taken further. Nevertheless, the director’s script is fine-tuned and effective, though lacking.
Flanagan also deftly edits the film, streamlining the past and present which merge more and more into one another, in a psychedelic mix that’s held together remarkably well. It’s all very well shot, with some great camera flourishes, which help to prop up some of the weaker aspects of the film.
Karen Gillan is especially good as the obsessive and slightly unhinged Kaylie. There’s a lot of subtlety to her acting in general, and she brings her game face to Oculus. Katee Sackhoff, too, is on great form as Kaylie’s mum, with her usual strong screen presence.
The music lets the film down, offering up a generic droning peppered with noisy string sections any time there’s blood on screen.
Oculus tries and gets away from the rut the genre is in, but ends up relying on the familiar; the mirror eyed manifestations, especially, suck all the tension and fright-factor. The film does rely on some familiar techniques, but it’s altogether zestier than many of its counterparts (i.e. The Conjuring). Despite its flaws, Oculus does manage to unsettle without being overly explicit and there’s hardly a jump scare in sight.
Extras: Inside the Mirror: Creating Oculus, deleted scenes, Oculus Chapter 3: The Man with the Plan (original short version)