Movie review – Oculus

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Starring: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Katee Sackhoff, Rory Cochrane
Writer/Director: Mike Flanagan
Produced by Intrepid PicturesBlumhouse ProductionsWWE Studios
Distributor: Relativity Media (2014) (USA) (theatrical)

(info courtesy of imdb)

If you don’t want to be even a tiny bit spoiled, I saw it, I liked it and you’ll probably like it to. Now stop reading because I may have revealed plot points and spoilers.

Seriously, the review is starting.

Last chance …

(P.S. it’s not the destination, but the journey, Whiner)

I wanted to see Oculus for a few reasons:
1 – I like Karen Gillian and I miss her face as Amy Pond.
2 – Scots using American accents is always a hoot
3 – I love haunted item (dolls, houses, body parts) movies
4 – Douglas said we could

With all of the preliminary bases covered, we hit a movie house on the first 70-degree Saturday to ensure ZERO other people. I even got popcorn (and a refill)!

Oculus tells the story of Kaylie and Tim, adult survivors of their parents’ mental collapse and double murder over a decade prior. Kaylie is successful and single-minded, having her parents’ money to provide her education and lifestyle. Despite what happened to her, she manages to be successful in the way people are deemed successful – good job, loving fiancé, and well put together for being a survivor of not being murdered.

Tim, her younger brother, has had it tougher – now released from a mental institution after spending those same years dealing with his parents’ actions he only has eleven years of psychobabble and medications to fall back on when things shortly go to hell.

Based on a promise they made to each other as terrified children,  Kaylie takes her newly stable brother to the place where it all went down with the very singular intention of destroying the item she believes is the culprit, once and for all – The Lasser Glass. Her reasons for exonerating her dad in the murder of her mother are as deeply personal as any Daddy/Daughter relationship. Tim plays the role of skeptical audience, throwing everything we would at a very determined person to remind them of things like logic, false memories, and the strongest of all: belief that absolute retribution exists (or helps).

I’m a sucker for ghost stories, like some people drool over slashers and fantasy. I won’t get into the psychology of why I find them the most satisfying of themes, mostly because I have no idea, but in movie-lover’s layman terms supernatural horror should be indefinable. There shouldn’t be a “reason” the Glass is evil, and there shouldn’t ever be a way to stop it. Ghosts, like God or Monday mornings, should be eternal – always there, their reasons for haunting and demoralization as ethereal as their presence.

This is a movie that takes out all of the “why didn’t they”, because Kaylie isn’t just the one that didn’t go to a mental institution and have therapy and get lithium shakes for lunch. She’s the one that grew up the internet, went to college, cites her sources, and shows the posers how it’s done. She’s techno-savvy without being flashy. The audience is treated to a brief history of the mirror, rapid-fire millennial-style, without the montage of someone typing and looking thoughtful at computer screens with open books scattered around. Backstory is out the way super quick, because it’s necessary but the story doesn’t hinge on it and we can get back to the meat of the tale. Everything is there except how the mirror came to be haunted. That’s actually the best part. I love that it can’t be defined.

I enjoyed the low-tech feel of the movie, because when a movie starts throwing all sorts of CGI and special effects wizardry, especially in a ghost story, it feels and it looks fake. Filmed on a (Hollywood) micro budget of $5M, more attention is paid to the story and the acting, because without that, there really is no movie. While Tim is the one that spent time sorting out his demons, Kaylie has had no such therapy, and he sounds like all of the rational explanations for things being remembered one particular way. It’s nice to have the recently insane be the rational ones. Just when you think maybe Kaylie really needs a handful of anti-psychotics and a good cry – she gets what she came for.

This movie is about perceptions and guilt and learning to leave well enough alone. Sometimes you simply can’t go back to fix the past, and no matter how hard you try, you’re only going to make things worse. The bonus bits for me were the ways the Glass twisted reality, and the divergent memories of the two survivors speak to just how deep its influence was in their past.

Movies like Oculus work because it doesn’t rely on CGI to make the Lasser Glass terrifying. It doesn’t have to because the story isn’t trying to wow you with tired pop culture clichés and gimmicks placed to prove how utterly clever everyone involved is. Horror movies aren’t about showing your audience what an ultimate fan you are (Rob Zombie, I’m looking at you). Writer/Director Mike Flanagan gives us information, shows us what we can expect, and the rips the rug out from beneath up with by letting our own imaginations run wild.  Good old-fashioned movie making rounds out the rest of the scares and those creepy silvery eyes of Marisol and everyone trapped in that cursed mirror. The effect is low-key and subtle which I’ll take any day of the week over stupid jump scares and lots of running and screaming. It’s hard to outsmart a supernatural entity when it can make you see anything it wants. We were all along for the ride, which made everything happening so much more fun to watch.

1 – Wow Factor – This didn’t suck like I really feared it will. That makes it a win.
2 – Wander Lust – I actually ran to the concessions for my refill of popcorn because I was afraid of missing something good.
3 – Rewind – There were no blink and you’ll miss them moments, which made the dread so much more palpable
4 – Recommend – Yes, to lovers of ghost stories, haunted items and movies with tangible stories
5 – Movie Math – The Haunting + Dead of Night + the good parts of The Conjuring = Oculus
6 – Personal Movie rating (scale of 1-5 with one being Abysmal and 5 being “Start A religion”) – 3.75

Did you see Occulus? How does my movie math hold up? Is there a better equation? Tell me in the comments!

Affiliate Disclosure I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn advertising fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated websites.
Just this fox. I'm a writer of horror and dark fantasy. I totally don't brag about it. The latter statement is an utter lie.
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