Reviewed by: Ryan Callaway
Brenton Thwaites … Tim Russell
Karen Gillan … Kaylie Russell
Katee Sackhoff … Marie Russell
James Lafferty … Michael
Rory Cochrane … Alan Russell
Annalise Basso … Young Kaylie Russell
Garrett Ryan … Young Tim Russell
Katie Parker … Annie
Kate Siegel … Marisol
Miguel Sandoval … Dr. Graham
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See all »
“You see what it wants you to see.”
Over the last few years, Blumhouse Productions has made a name for itself by producing successful independent horror films with budgets that would barely cover the catering expenses on most Hollywood sets. “Sinister,” “Insidious” and the “Paranormal Activity” films are among their credits. “Oculus” is their latest wide release, directed by Mike Flanagan who was also responsible for the moody independent success “Absentia.” With the names attached on the production side, I knew immediately this was a film I wanted to see.
In “Oculus,” siblings Kaylie and Tim were scarred during their childhood by an encounter with an evil presence somehow attached to a mirror. The carnage resulted in the violent deaths of both of their parents, and Tim’s incarceration for supposedly shooting their father in the head. Years later, Tim is released at the age of 21, content to move on with his life after “accepting responsibility” for what happened, rather than blaming an inanimate object.
Kaylie, on the other hand, despite being happily engaged and successful at work—still has an obsession with whatever occurred in their childhood home. She tracks down the mirror, and through research learns that all of its previous owners died in horrific manners—going back to the 16th century. Wanting revenge, and to stop the trail of bloodshed, Kaylie pressures Tim to keep a promise that they made to each other years before—to find the mirror and destroy it once and for all.
As I expected, “Oculus” is well made. The cinematography is spot on, the visuals dark and disturbing, and the writing strong enough to overcome the stigma of being “another horror movie about a mirror.” While I can’t say this one paves much new ground, the characterizations, and how “contained” the story seems, make “Oculus” stand out. During the course of the film, we’re given flashbacks that fill in the details of what happened to Kaylie and Tim as children. However, due to the twisted perception the entity in the mirror inflicts on its victims, the dangers present in the past manifest themselves and become too real to Kaylie and Tim. Due to crafty writing and masterful editing, the past and the present are blended together beautifully without slowing down the pace. The music also compliments the eerie, haunting tone.
The main driving force behind “Oculus” is the brother-sister relationship. Even in their childhood they banded together to attempt to overcome insurmountable odds. As adults, they are again going for the impossible. Initially, I was a little put off by Karen Gilan’s acting, but then I realized how solid her performance actually is. She iss portraying a grown woman whose clung to an odd obsession, one for which she is willing to put her own life—and ultimately her brother’s—at risk. I also have to tip my hat to Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan for their performances as Young Kaylie and Young Tim, respectively. The horror and trauma they endure is all the more difficult to watch due to the believability of their acting.
The movie is rated R for terror, violence, and disturbing images, and it definitely earns that rating. I don’t want to spoil the story, so I won’t go into too many details. But—children being strangled by much larger adults, a person biting into a light bulb, and another being impaled through the head—are among some of the brutal images you’ll be exposed to. There are also a couple of stabbings, and the “after” photos of the mirror’s previous owners aren’t easy to look at.
There is some profanity and vulgar language, but better than many films. As for sexual content, Kaylie and Tim’s mother often seems to wear open shirts for bedtime that nearly expose her breasts—even around her children. And in one scene, early on… well, she’s probably cold. So that could be a source of stumbling for some.
There isn’t any real intentional spiritual content. The characters don’t turn to any religious figures, and certainly not Christ Himself, for aid. Instead, they rely on their own devices, and as we know—that often doesn’t turn out too well. Kaylie’s obsession may be a good point of discussion, as instead of letting go and moving on, she allows it to draw her and others into danger. And sadly, while Tim had made positive steps to move on, he is also dragged back into the fire.
I was also reminded of the verse “the lamp of the body is the eye.” And it’s also written “if the eye is good, the whole body will be full of light. But if the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness.” In context, it’s referring to the threat of concealed or deceitful “spiritual darkness.” However, in the film, it’s kind of represented by the threat of deceitful imagery. If you can’t trust your eyes—what can you trust? And if you don’t know the difference between what’s real and what’s a delusion—how safe can you be?
Overall, as a film, “Oculus” is a very solid outing, and I’d recommend it for fans of “Sinister,” “Insidious,” and other atmosphere-driven horror flicks. It was a little too grim and hopeless for me personally, so I don’t think I’d watch it again.
Violence: Heavy to extreme / Profanity: Heavy—OMG (2), G*d-damn (2), Jesus, “My G*d,” damn (4), hell, f-words (2), s-words (5), “cr*ap” / Sex/Nudity: Moderate
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.