Butler County Times Gazette
  • My View: ‘Oculus’ a great horror movie

  • A certain amount of skepticism is to be expected when approaching a scary movie about an antique mirror, but the results are surprisingly riveting. “Oculus” is my favorite horror movie since last summer’s “The Conjuring.”
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  • A certain amount of skepticism is to be expected when approaching a scary movie about an antique mirror, but the results are surprisingly riveting. “Oculus” is my favorite horror movie since last summer’s “The Conjuring.”
    After being released from a psychiatric hospital, Tim (Brenton Thwaites) agrees to meet his sister Kaylie (Karen Gillan) at their childhood home, where she plans to defeat an evil spirit that lies within a four centuries-old mirror. Or so she claims. She has a slightly crazed look in her eyes as she presents what amounts to a dissertation on the mirror, detailing the many murders she says it’s responsible for – including the murder of their parents, Alan (Rory Cochrane) and Marie (Katee Sackhoff), which happened when Kaylie was 13 and Tim was 10. Is she right, or could there be a more rational explanation? Isn’t it possible that Kaylie and Tim are victims not of a supernatural phenomenon, but of monstrously abusive parents?
    The storytelling is so rich that for awhile we’re on the side of Tim, who has come to rationalize the events of his childhood. Then some rather disturbing surveillance footage puts his theory to rest. The first half of “Oculus” is powered by flashbacks in which we see the slow deterioration of Alan and Marie and the shocking ways in which they turned on their children. In the present-day scenes we’re fascinated by the complicated plan Kaylie has cooked up to defeat the mirror, involving alarms, video cameras and a “kill switch.”
    After Kaylie finally convinces Tim, things become truly unsettling. There aren’t a lot of jump-and-scream moments. The movie is more about mounting tension and dread, but there are some genuine shocks. The mirror has the power to trick people into seeing something they’re not, and there’s a scene where Kaylie mistakes a light bulb for an apple that made me gasp.
    As in “The Conjuring”, the story and relationships are emotionally involving. I was very moved when the newly orphaned Kaylie and Tim tearfully made a pact to defeat the mirror. This scene and others are aided considerably by the astounding performance of Annalise Basso as young Kaylie. She gives one of three strong female performances in the film. Gillan perfectly captures adult Kaylie’s anger and resolve, while Sackhoff has perhaps the most demanding role as the ill-fated Marie.
    In some ways, the biggest star of the show is the mirror, which just might be the most memorable enchanted glass since Disney’s “Snow White”. That it works so spectacularly is a testament to the filmmaking craft of co-writer/director Mike Flanagan, who uses The Newton Brothers’ sinister, pulsating musical score to establish the mirror’s “radius of influence.” The way the two stories start to meld, with figures from the past and the present appearing in the same shot, is a substantial achievement. This leads up to a climax that has left some viewers feeling unsatisfied, but I for one think it was a gutsy move on Flanagan’s part in that it ruthlessly plays by the rules established in earlier scenes. Sure, the ending leaves you wanting more, but that’s what sequels are for.
    Page 2 of 2 - “Oculus” is playing at the Palace West Theatre in Wichita. For showtimes visit www.palacemovies.com/palacewest/showtimes.asp.
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