TIFF13: My Thoughts on Oculus

JE3_7854.NEF An antique mirror influences malevolent supernatural events in the horror film Oculus, by director Mike Flanagan (Absentia). Tim Russell (Brenton Thwaites) is released from a mental hospital a decade after he shot his father (Rory Cochrane), who had killed his mother (Katee Sackhoff). He is picked up by his older sister Kaylie (Karen Gillan), who has always been convinced that these tragic event were influenced by a haunted mirror their father bought in an auction. After finally locating the mirror, Kaylie brings it to her childhood home and she and, a very skeptical, Tim attempt to videotape proof the mirror’s supernatural powers and then destroy it.

Oculus is a very simple haunted house film with a single location and a cast of only five or so characters. However, despite this simplicity, I thought that Oculus was very effective at delivering the scares. Even though the film has a lengthy exposition scene, in which Kaylie narrates the history of the mirror and the deaths that surround it, the exact nature of the mirror is never fully revealed. In many ways Oculus is comparable to 1408, where the supernatural events start off subtle and get more intense as the film progresses.  I also have to applaud the film going in an R-rated direction, with many grisly gory moments, some of which are real and others are merely illusions caused by the mirror. The film also has a mirrored plot, which switches back and forth between the present and the original traumatic event from Kaylie and Tim’s childhood.  While these initially start out like simple flashbacks, they eventually seem to be part of mirror’s trickery. By the climax of the film, we are switching between past and present from one shot to the next, as the house becomes like a funhouse, with scares around every corner. I have to say that I thought that Scottish actress Karen Gillan, best known as popular Doctor Who companion Amy Pond, was quite good in the lead role of Kaylie. This is particularly true in the aforementioned exposition scene, which is probably one of the most well-done scenes of plot set-up that I have seen.  That said, I could probably just give or take the character of Tim, especially early on in the film when he is playing the role of the obligatory skeptic, who just thinks Kaylie has the same mental health issues he had.  The film also features a very dark performance for Rory Cochrane, which is big contrast from the stoner character he played twenty years ago in Dazed and Confused. In a similar fashion, Katee Sackhoff plays a much different character than she is known for, which takes some interesting (and grisly) twists. Overall, I have to say that I thought that Oculus was a simple, yet very effective, haunted house film and I will definitely recommend checking this one out. 9 | REALLY LIKED IT