February 27, 2015

Movie Review: Oculus

When I saw the trailer for Oculus last year I wrote it off as just another jump-scare horror film. There are so many of them and I'm tired of seeing such films, so I forgot all about it. Then I ran across the movie on Netflix and tried it out. After all, if it were like the trailer I would only be out a few minutes before turning it off and confirming that it was of little substance.

Then I found out I was wrong. Oculus is actually a pretty good movie.

It would've been great, but there were a few problems with it. The whole thing starts out strong - no ghosts crawling on walls or ceilings, no monsters hiding behind the protagonist, or other cheap tricks like that. Instead, you're treated to more of a psychological horror.

The haunted mirror in question likes to play games and get people to kill each other and themselves. It's able to bend reality around it, making people think they are experiencing things that aren't there. It also feeds off of animals, plants, etc.

Then you find out that a brother and sister lost their parents to the mirror. The brother was institutionalized for killing the father and claiming all sorts of crazy things, while the sister obsessed over clearing the family name. She's able to acquire the mirror after doing plenty of research about its sordid past, then lures her just-released brother into helping her. Things get interesting since the brother's been thoroughly convinced by years and years of therapy that he didn't see anything that he did, because after all things like ghosts are just a figment of a person's imagination. They debate back and forth about the validity of the sister's claims surrounding the mirror while things start to get weird. The brother explains things away over and over, but he realizes too late that what he had convinced himself was fantasy is in fact reality.

Without giving anything away, I was disappointed in only two ways - which is pretty good since most horror films disappoint me in about a dozen or so. First off, while the beginning through about the middle or so of the movie messes with your head, eventually some jump-scare tactics are deployed. They feel cheap, even moreso than in other films like The Ring because they're juxtaposed with such smart plot development. The second aspect was the confusing nature of the jumping from the past to the present willy-nilly. It was extremely hard to tell what was flashback and what was the mirror playing tricks. While the filmmakers might have thought it helped add to the feeling of bewilderment by the characters, all it did was make me feel like I was being unfairly tricked. There's a lesson to be learned by writers there, because you should never treat your readers like that.

All in all, Oculus was an enjoyable movie, despite those two problems. The ending wasn't as satisfying as I would've liked, but I didn't feel like I wasted my time.


mshatch said...

I find it hard to find a really good horror flick, something that manages to twist the genre and surprise me without resorting to cliches. I'll have to check Oculus out :)

Elizabeth Seckman said...

I think flashbacks are annoying if not done just right. I saw the movie last week and agree with you 100%

It was well worth watching! Horror is so much better with a clever plot.

Oh, my one beef...the name seemed more sci-fi than horror. I passed it over for that reason several times.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I didn't like the ending. It was tense leading up to it, but as you said, it lost the psychological edge and went for basic horror scares.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Thanks for the recommendation, Steve! My family might give this one a try.

J.H. Moncrieff said...

I was also pleasantly surprised by this movie. I didn't expect it to be nearly as good as it was, but I found it original and really creepy.

I watched it during an overnight flight to Hong Kong, and in that setting, it was definitely disturbing!