Whilst ostensibly a horror movie about a haunted mirror, OCULUS is anything but familiar. Told via a chronologically choppy narrative and performed by believable characters, there is much to love here.
To me, the film evokes elements of Lommel’s THE BOOGEYMAN (1980) – a “marmite movie” if there ever was one – in story, score and atmosphere. But OCULUS is a far better movie than that low-budget charmer. The premise of the film is based on two siblings who set up an elaborate “execution” device for an evil mirror. Director Mike Flannagan concentrates at least 90% of his movie in one house – and mostly in one room – split over two periods, one historic and one set in the present. By the end, both worlds have somehow merged into one chaotic mind-bender.
The absence of visceral gore is telling and has drawn comparison with the similarly bloodless THE CONJURING (2012). There are less “boo” scares than in James Wan’s stellar haunted house movie, but in many ways OCULUS is the more curious and memorable of the two. It’s pleasing to see some horror movies abandoning the gratuitous torture-porn approach seen so often since the early 2000s.
All that said, some have found fault. You could argue that the increasingly non-linear flashbacks end up frustrating the the audience and you’d be right. But that is Flannagan’s whole point – we end up as confused as the pitiful brother and sister on screen having little clue as to whether they are trapped in a nightmare 11 years ago or attempting to stay alive right now. The editing techniques to deliver this effect really deserve a mention and get progressively funkier with the running time.
Flannagan’s real coup-de-grace moment comes about 2/3rds through, when tricked by the mirror Karen Gillan bites into an apple only to discover it’s a light-bulb. The cringing use of sound in this scene is fabulously grim as she unpicks the bloody class from her ravaged mouth.
Whilst you can see the ending coming a long way off – you know that huge jackhammer positioned above the mirror is going to make its presence felt sooner or later – it still manages to send a jolt through you as we are encased in the utter despair of a very unhappy ending.
One of the best horror movies of recent years, of that I have little doubt. A sequel is much warranted.
Hotdog rating: 8.5/10