Oculus (Dennis)



Main cast: Karen Gillen, Brenton Thwaites

Director: Mike Flanagan

The best horror movie I saw in 2013 was, hands down, Oculus. Not only was it the best one I saw all that year, it’s in my top 5 horror favorites, behind The Exorcist, It Follows, The Fly, and Unfriended, and it’s the first movie I’ve ever seen, or that I can remember seeing, that, afterward I thought to myself, “I wish I had written that novel.”

Not that Oculus was originally a novel, it was adapted from a short film by writer/director Mike Flanagan, but I mean if this movie didn’t exist, I wish I had written the story as a novel. It would make one hell of a story.

Alan (Rory Cochran, Argo) and Marie Russell (Katee Sackhoff, “Battlestar Galactica”) have just moved into a new house with their two children, Tim and Kaylie, and Alan has decided to decorate his new home office (he works from home as a software designer) with an ornate antique mirror. Little does he know, the mirror feeds off the lives around it and Alan is soon in thrall to the entity that resides inside it. Soon it drives him to madness and he murders his wife before being taken out by then ten-year-old Tim. Eleven years later, on his twenty-first birthday, Tim (Brenton Thwaites, The Signal) is released from psychiatric care, presumably cured of his delusions that the mirror killed his father. Upon release, he is met by his sister (Karen Gillen, “Doctor Who”) who tells him, “I found it.”

Before being taken away, the kids made a promise that, when they were bigger and stronger, they would find the mirror and destroy it for what it had done. Now, in light of all the help he’s had over the years, Tim is no longer convinced there’s anything sinister about the mirror. Kaylie, on the other hand, has spent those years researching its history and making a list of all its former victims, of which there are a LOT. She lures Tim to their old house, which was never sold, and shows him her set-up.

Kaylie has cameras, thermostats, timers, everything she’ll need to prove her theory of the mirror’s evil, clearing their family name, before doing the thing she promised to do that night so long ago: destroy it.

But once she uncovers the mirror and begins her tests, the old ghosts come back to haunt the siblings, and the mirror, or whatever lives inside it, proves no matter how big and strong they got, it’s bigger and stronger, and after so many years, it’s very hungry.

Mike Flanagan is a man who knows my tastes and always satisfies them. His previous movie, Absentia, is, in my opinion, an underrated classic of the genre. This is an intelligent script with a complex plot that expertly weaves present and past storylines into a cohesive whole that never feels forced or weakened by the intermingling. On their own, both timelines stories would have been perfectly effective, but together they enhance the impact of each other and result in one of the strongest, most well-conceived horror movies I’ve ever seen.

The characters are developed while the performances bring them alive on the screen. Adult Kaylie, especially, burns with a determination you don’t see in many protagonists and I attribute that to Gillen’s no-sense take. Thwaites is equally up to the challenge, staunch in his belief at first, and in that moment when his character has to realize Kaylie was right all along, Thwaites totally sells it.

Sakhoff gives an excellent showing as the self-doubting, insecure Marie while Cochrane is both affable and creepy depending on the point in the story. Overall an excellent cast, with an excellent story and a strong script.

Flanagan’s direction is top notch, handling both timelines nearly seamlessly, with some excellent cinematography and editing to smooth out those edges. And the way he played with perception and memory was, in my opinion, brilliant. I loved this movie from the first time I saw it in theaters and when I saw the DVD, it wasn’t even a question whether I was buying it or not; it was in my cart before I had time to finish a breath.

Oculus is smart, creepy, and beautifully-made, and I could watch it again and again and never get bored with it.

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