Eleven years ago, little Tim Russell (Brenton Thwaites) killed his father (Rory Cochrane) after witnessing him murder his psychotic mother (Katee Sackhoff). Traumatized, Tim was sent to a mental hospital separating him from his older sister Kailey (Karen Gillan). In therapy, Tim was indoctrinated to no longer believe that both his parents were possessed by an evil antique mirror that made them homicidal. Now grown up and supposedly cured, Tim returns to society hoping to start life anew. This is hampered when Kailey requests he join her in their nightmarish old home for one more night. What Tim thinks will be a hard facing of their dark past turns into a twisted survival story as the crazed fantasy he had just convinced himself didn’t happen, may be happening again.
Oculus is a horror film based on director Mike Flanagan’s 2006 indie short film, Oculus: Chapter 3 - The Man with the Plan, of a similar premise. Horror is a promising film genre that has recently started to go in an interesting direction. Rather than horrid monsters or killers chasing the tripping heroine through a forest, it’s more about what you don’t see. Humans can imagine far worse than what they can create and in the dark, imagination runs wild. Have you ever had those moments where you saw something out of the corner of your eye but no one was there tell you if that was real or not? You know it couldn’t be real, but you can swear you saw it right there… That’s this entire movie. Supposedly, the mirror ghost can possess people’s awareness. Basically, the characters, and therefore you, see what the mirror wants them to see. The trick to this film, though, is that it’s slightly possible everyone here could be crazy.
For the first half of the film, I didn’t know whether there was actually a ghost or all of these traumatized victims were losing it. But once the truth gets out, the film goes on an impressive tirade, seamlessly blending the present and what really happened long ago on that terrible night. Usually, films use a clean cut to separate the present and past storylines, but not here. Both stories are happening at the same time in the same location. As adult Tim investigates the kitchen, child Kailey creeps up the stairs in the background, eventually turning the corner and becoming adult Kailey again. It takes all your mental capacity to keep up. The few breaks provided take place when our characters are hiding from what may or may not be there.
Visually intriguing and terrifying, the only downer to Oculus seems to be the ending. Simply put, it’s a sad ending without even a measurable hint of a possible victory. While this is common in the horror genre, it is extremely frustrating to watch the main character struggle against an enemy that has no right to win, only for the character to lose in the end anyway. Dark endings have their place and they are hard to pull off. Horror fans will get a kick from this mind-bender but the conclusion is paramount and that sour final note will make the novelty of Oculus’ ingenuity quickly fade with the credits.