FilmReview

"Oculus" Review: An Intriguing Idea Gets Lost in Muddled Plotting

Wesley Emblidge ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Karen Gillian and Brenton Thwaites in Oculus. Photo Credit: John Estes/Lasser Productions.
Karen Gillian and Brenton Thwaites in Oculus. Photo Credit: John Estes/Lasser Productions.

There’s nothing we trust more than our sense of sight, but when you can’t even believe what you see, what do you have?

That’s the question that director Mike Flanagan poses in his new horror movie Oculus, based on his short that he wrote with Jeff Seidman. The feature adaptation, which Flanagan wrote with Jeff Howard, focuses on a family dealing with a possessed mirror that, among other things, has the ability to alter what people see.

In what may be the most effective moment of the film, Kaylie (Doctor Who’s Karen Gillan) picks up an apple and takes a bite, only to discover that she was actually holding a light bulb. The moment works so well, but then is undercut when the movie reveals it really was an apple the whole time. It represents the movie as a whole fairly well, one with fun ideas but unsure how to play with them.

Brenton Thwaites and Karen Gillian in Oculus. Photo Credit: John Estes/Lasser Productions.
Brenton Thwaites and Karen Gillian in Oculus. Photo Credit: John Estes/Lasser Productions.

Eleven years ago, Kaylie and Tim’s (Brenton Thwaites) parents went insane; their father killed their deranged mother then tried to kill them, forcing eleven year-old Tim to shoot him. The film picks up ten years later with Tim being released from a mental hospital into the care of his sister, who takes him back to their childhood home to destroy the mirror she believes caused the incident. The film flashes back and forth between the modern day and the events over a decade prior, and that’s the first of several problems. Everything we learn in the flash backs could be accomplished in a scene, instead we spend half our time there waiting to return to the present where what’s happening is actually relevant to the story.

It also doesn’t help that Rory Cochrane as their father gives a terrible, lifeless performance that makes it seem like he was just possessed the whole time. He also has no chemistry with Katee Sackhoff, who does the best she can as his wife, rendering their fate all the less affecting. Thwaites is a bore too, leaving just the admirably determined Gillan to carry the movie. Eventually, like much of the horror film market today, characters start making stupid decisions and the score becomes overly intrusive and it all devolves into cliché. There’s still an interesting concept at play in Oculus, if only Flanagan and Howard had a better idea what to do with it (and a better cast to boot).

Overall Grade: C

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