Today I read someone else’s review of Oculus before I wrote mine, something that I never do. They thought that the film was dull. Now, Oculus is a lot of things, but it’s not dull.
Originally I debated if I should go see it and do a review. It’s a horror story about an evil mirror. I wondered if there would be any redeeming value to it. Then I saw the tagline on the movie poster: “You see what it wants you to see.” I thought, “What a great idea. A mirror that lies to you by showing a distorted view. It would be similar to how we believe in the lies that Satan wants to tell us when we are not on our guard.” THAT’S the movie I wanted to see. Sadly, Oculus is not that movie.
It opens as Tim Russell (Brenton Thwaites) is getting out of a mental hospital after about a ten year stay. He was assigned there for shooting his father (Rory Cochrane) who had hurt his mother (Katee Sackhoff) and was about to hurt his sister. It was an act of self-defense, but the state didn’t see it that way. His sister Kaylie (Karen Gillan) meets him there and it becomes obvious that their relationship has been strained a bit. They both have different memories of what went on during the dissolution of their family when both mom and dad had meltdowns.
Now that Tim has had years of psychological help, it is his sister who appears to be the crazy one. With money from their family’s estate, Kaylie has purchased a bunch of high tech equipment to monitor what happens when she and Tim are alone in their old home with the mirror. Kalie wants to destroy the mirror after she records what goes on in that room to prove to all the naysayers that this mirror is indeed evil. At first Tim wants no part of it, but like the audience, he gets sucked in.
I do not know why the movie is called Oculus. The word is never uttered throughout the movie; at least, I don’t remember hearing it. (It’s possible that it was during one of Kaylie’s rantings on the history of the mirror and the mysterious deaths of its previous owners, but she talks so fast, I don’t recall hearing it.)The word “Oculus” means “eye.” What that has to do with the story is a mystery in itself.
Both Tim and Kaylee begin to have memories of what went on in that home years before, slowly revealing how the seemingly happy family began to fall apart. As the movie goes on the scenes begin to jumble back and forth with Tim and Kaylee reliving these memories. They lose track of time, find themselves in different locations in the house not knowing how they got there and basically zone out.
Oculus is not a bad movie. It kept my attention all the way through. In fact, I jumped and reacted more than a grown man probably should in a public theater. However it has three major flaws to it in my opinion. For one, evil wins in the end. Good should always come out on top, otherwise you feel cheated. The second problem is that the story serves as unreliable narrator. I believe that writers use this technique when they paint themselves in the corner plot wise, they just proceed as if everything makes sense when it doesn’t. (Sort of like that year of Dallas when it was reveal that Bobby Ewing was in the shower the whole time and Sue Ellen was just dreaming.) The third flaw is that there is no explanation on why the mirror is so hell-bent on destroying this family in the first place. The mirror does “trick” the characters, but not with their reflections. Regardless of the genre, all movies need to have some basic logic to them, and Oculus does about ¾ of the way through. But during the movie’s final quarter, all logic goes out the window.