This weekend, director Mike Flanagan’s game changing horror film ‘Oculus’ debuts in theaters. Flanagan who co-wrote the film along with Jeff Howard strives to add new dimensions to the horror genre. Audiences who have grown accustomed to seeing ghostly specters jump out and scare them, will encounter a totally different form of creepy – a villainous Lasser Glass antique mirror.
As the story unfolds, we learn that ten years ago, tragedy struck the Russell family, leaving the lives of teenage siblings Tim (Brenton Thwaites) and Kaylie (Karen Gillan) forever changed when Tim was convicted of the brutal murder of their parents and incarcerated in an mental institution. 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 is a big task to try and change the horror genre and ‘Oculus’ gives it the old college try. But, in its attempt to change thing up, parallel scenes that alter reality by showing characters and events in the past, becomes a distraction to the current story happening. In one moment, you see Tim and Kaylie as children and then suddenly they morph into adults with real-time horror playing out before them. All the back and forth of scenes shot at various times, do little to enhance the film. Instead of flowing freely, it becomes a jumbled flashback mess (and a horror in its own right).
Fans of BBC television’s ‘Dr. Who’ will recognize Karen Gillan as their beloved Amy Pond who traveled with the doctor. As Kaylie, she is quite believable as the ambitiously driven sibling who defends into obsessive insanity. A skill no doubt learned on the ‘Dr. Who’ set where she has encountered many crazy scenarios.
Australian actor Brenton Thwaites as the vulnerable younger brother, Tim holds his own against Gillan. He is the shaky voice of reason tinged with uncertainty. Since his character has forgotten the true events of their childhood, he also experiences a catharsis that jolts his very core and threatens his sanity. Thwaites conveys a range of emotions from disbelief to terror that will have you cringing with anticipation.
Unfortunately, this is a movie clearly mastered for young adults (YA). And, like all of its predecessors it is comprised of a storyline that favors shallow moviemaking thrills over substance. In its attempt to give this age group its prerequisite gibberish, it lessens the impact of what could have been a disturbing tale, complete with a murderous father (Rory Cochrane) and a possessed mother (Katee Sackhoff).
‘Oculus’ suffers from Flanagan’s attempt to improve the horror genre and becomes instead a jumpy alternate reality film of confusion. It is Rated R for terror, violence, some disturbing images and brief language with a run time of 105 minutes.