The Dark Thrills of Oculus

Movie Oculus

Image courtesy of Intrepid Pictures/Relativity Media

The Dark Thrills of Oculus
| Published April 19, 2014 |

By Lori Garrett
Thursday Review contributor

I have the best movie buddy in all the land. The other day, I happened upon the preview to Oculus, the newest horror film on the market. I sent him a link to view it and within minutes, he sent me back a message saying only “Monday, 11:30”.

Oculus is a darkly thrilling movie starring Karen Gillan (Dr. Who), Brenton Thwaites (the upcoming Maleficent), Rory Cochrane (A Scanner Darkly, Empire Records) and Katee Sackoff (Battlestar: Galactica). It’s based on the short film Oculus: Chapter 3-The Man with the Plan by writer-director Mike Flanagan. The movie revolves around one of the creepiest household objects; the mirror. It banks on the fact that if you really think about it, sometimes something we use every day without a second thought can turn out to be downright sinister.

The mirror in question is indeed an ominous piece of furniture, having an ornately carved black frame and a surface that seems to need a serious cleaning. The mythology behind this particular mirror is that it is over four centuries old and believed to be responsible for at least 45 grisly deaths in its recorded history, including those of the parents of our heroes. Considering that the movie revolves around this allegedly evil mirror, the director used surprisingly few ‘mirror scares’ (when something appears behind the protagonist in the mirror, but not in the actual room) and those that are used are done tastefully and to good effect.

One of the only pit-falls of this movie, and I feel this is something that is affecting the entire horror genre, is that it’s short. At barely over 100 minutes long, it is a full half hour shorter than recent action packed movies such as Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and last summer’s The Avengers. This causes hurried dialogue and more clipped editing. I would love to see well done horror movies today have the length and sustainability of the greats of the 60’s and 70’s, such as Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist. I feel that many scary movies would improve greatly with the addition of ten to fifteen more minutes of screen time. Maybe it’s just me.

The story itself is told in a beautiful mix of present day and flash backs that get so twisted up by the end of the film that the characters (and audience) can barely tell the difference. I usually don’t go in for that type of storytelling, but in this one it comes off as artful and lends much to the story itself. Where most horror movies tend to rely on the ever-popular jump-scare, this one uses a slow build up and tension to tell its tale. Low on gore but heavy on the fright factor, I highly recommend this movie to true fans of the genre.