Movie Review - Oculus

Karen Gillan (left) and Brenton Thwaites
battle a mirror in "Oculus"
This is by far the best film produced by WWE Studios. It also might end up being the best horror film of the year. It's certainly the best horror film for me since The Conjuring.

Even though there's so much to it that is predictable, the performances are good and director and co-writer Mike Flanagan is able to use great film-making techniques to maintain interest and keep audiences on edge. In the most complimentary way imaginable, Oculus is like a really good episode of The Twilight Zone or The X-Files.

Scottish actress Karen Gillan stars as Kaylie Russell, a 23-year-old woman who buys a 200-year-old mirror at a fancy auction. Australian actor Brenton Thwaites stars as Tim Russell, her 21-year-old brother who is at the beginning released from a mental hospital. Both Kaylie and Tim reunite for one fateful night. Why Tim was in a mental hospital and why Kaylie is obsessed with the old mirror is the mystery of the movie.

Katee Sackoff (Battlestar Galactica) and Rory Cochrane (CSI: Miami) co-star as Marie Russell and Alan Russell respectively. They're Kaylie and Tim's parents. Eleven years prior to Kaylie and Tim's reunion-post mental hospital, Marie and Alan were having marital problems. Those problems led to a deadly crime and punishment between the married couple. What caused those problems is the topic of discussion. Eleven years later, Kaylie and Tim are going to debate it, and this is where Flanagan's script shows real intelligence.

Tim thinks the problems were due to a psychotic break between his parents, an unspoken folie a deux. Kaylie thinks the problems were due to the old mirror having an evil, supernatural influence over anything and anyone who comes close to it. I compare it to The X-Files because like that TV series, there's a redhead, professional woman here debating a mentally unstable man about a supernatural incident or artifact. It might not be aliens but it sure is something spooky. Only this movie has the woman and man be in their early twenties, but the two of them are then thrown into danger.

Once that danger begins, the film becomes all about playing mind games. There's some strong punches of body horror, a little bit of blood, but, for the most part, the film is all about the mind games and playing with people's perceptions with occasional optical illusions to turn the people against each other. It culminates to a point where no one can tell what's real and what's not real. This is true for the characters and it's true for the movie-going audience.

With Flanagan's frenetic editing toward the end, particularly when Flanagan has Kaylie and Tim crossing physical paths with their younger selves in the same scene, it becomes a crazy yet exciting mess. Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan play the younger Kaylie and younger Tim respectively, and I would argue these two pre-teens do the heavier lifting in terms of dramatic acting, and they more than carry their weight.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated R for terror, violence, some disturbing images and brief language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 45 mins.


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