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'Oculus' is a freaky little thriller

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Oculus

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Sadly, horror as a genre tends to get shuffled off into the corner and ignored by the mainstream that lump it in with the slasher, co-ed, serial killer at a camp type of film. However once in a while something comes along that challenges convention and makes for a truly unique experience. "Oculus" doesn't lean on necessary gore, instead it milks a complex story for all the atmosphere it can with some truly chilling results thanks to some excellent cinematic execution and some great performances

Ten years ago, tragedy struck the Russell family, leaving the lives of teenage siblings Tim and Kaylie (Brenton Thwaites and Karen Gillan) forever changed when Tim was convicted of the brutal murder of their parents (Katee Sackhoff and Rory Cochrane). Now in his 20s, Tim is newly released from protective custody and only wants to move on with his life; but Kaylie, still haunted by that fateful night, is convinced her parents’ deaths were caused by something else altogether: a malevolent supernatural force, unleashed through the Lasser Glass, an antique mirror in their childhood home. Determined to prove Tim’s innocence, Kaylie tracks down the mirror, only to learn similar deaths have befallen previous owners over the past century. With the mysterious entity now back in their hands, Tim and Kaylie soon find their hold on reality shattered by terrifying hallucinations, and realize, too late, that their childhood nightmare is beginning again.

It's a rare thing when we encounter such a self contained story that manages to be as engaging and as thrilling as "Oculus" is. It's scary, smart filmmaking that doesn't talk down to its audience with cheap jump scares and tired plot points.

Co-writer and director Mike Flanagan coming off of his recent horror effort "Absentia" crafts a tense yarn filled with twists and turns that don't necessarily reinvent the genre but the sum of everything that he throws on the screen is a lean and mean little thriller that manages to put us on the edge of our seats throughout the entire film. Placing almost all of the action of the film in the one house truly gives it that story in a bottle type of feel and Flanagan has an excellent sense of pacing as the story moves effortlessly between the present day and the tragic events that took place in their house ten years ago.

Not an effects heavy movie, it uses music, editing and an excellent use of framing to make us jump at the little things and that accentuates the terror of this mysterious entity in the mirror even more than it already is. The ensemble who have embraced the nature of the story deliver some truly memorable performances adding even more to the deftly assembled visual layers that the film has to offer

Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites, neither of whom have a ton of on screen credits to their name are poised to have a break out year with "Oculus" shows us why. Both have great chemistry together as they banter back and forth about what actually happened in that house 10 years ago. They play their roles well, one as the determined sibling who wants to create her own concrete ending to these events, and the other who gets pulled back into something he spent the last ten years trying to forget and move on from.

Katee Sackhoff as the idyllic yet broken mother in this household must have had a blast in this role if only for the fact it is one of the first in recent memory where she didn't have to carry a side arm. She was great as we got to see her character evolve from a loving individual as the anxiety of what she knew was happening to her seemingly drove her demonic and almost feral. Rory Cochrane also got the rare chance to play a part that was dispassionately cold to the point that it was quite refreshing that he didn't need to bring any histrionics to the role as the quieter his character got, the scarier he got.

From top to bottom, "Oculus" is a refreshing brand of horror movie that we just don't get to see all that often. It's an intelligent, exceptionally well made bit of storytelling that is actually scary, rather than resorting to cheap tricks to get us to jump out of our seats. Director Mike Flanagan has the potential to be a strong voice in horror film making for years to come.

4 out of 5 stars.

Picture and sound quality on the Blu-Ray are top notch and the special features on this release include deleted scenes with optional commentary, Inside The Mirror: Creating Oculus making of doc, the original short film of "Oculus" with optional commentary along with a feature length commentary track.

"Oculus" is now available on DVD, Blu-Ray, On Demand and Digital Download from all major retailers and providers.

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