Some of the most bone-chilling horror films were made on shoestring budgets, but that’s not necessarily a recipe for success. It’s not just about the number of scares you can conjure up. Acting, writing and editing are factors at hand. If one of these fails, the entire movie can crumble. Although there are a few promising features in “Oculus,” its predictable story and over-acted lead performance by actress Karen Gillan makes this just another mediocre bloodfest.
In 2005, co-writer/director Mike Flanagan created “Oculus,” a short movie which featured one actor alone in a room with a haunted mirror (aka the Lasser glass) for thirty minutes. After receiving acclaim in the festival circuit, he took on the challenge of turning the story into a full-length film. Blumhouse Productions, who has achieved major success from the “Paranormal Activity” and “Insidious” franchise, have placed their stamp on the revamped “Oculus.” Perhaps they should start being more selective.
The demon is the “Lasser Glass,” a large antique mirror, which holds a supernatural force that feeds off the energy of humans, plants and animals. Some demon/zombie/ghostlike woman steps out of the mirror and pays a visit to whoever owns the reflective object. Who this woman is, we do not know. What we do know is that it is responsible for driving Kaylie (Karen Gillan) and Tim’s (Brenton Thwaites) parents mentally insane. We are thrust back and forth from their childhood memories to present day. Now in their early twenties, Tim has been released from a mental institution after being blamed for killing his father. Kaylie now works at an antique auction and seems to have spent every waking day since her parent’s murders obsessing over the demonic mirror. It is her lifetime duty to conquer the Lasser Glass and shatter it to pieces. Once she drags Tim into her journey of revenge, there is no looking back.
The first half of the 104-minute film runs as slowly as blood drips. It doesn’t pick up until eleven years later when Tim and Kaylie finally conjure the demon in the mirror for the second time. Despite Gillan’s exaggerated delivery of the dialogue, the younger version of her character (played by Annalise Basso) proves to be a far better ‘scream queen.’ Brenton Thwaites is successful in portraying the sensible brother. Garrett Ryan (young Tim) shows his range with a tear-heavy role. Rory Cochrane and Katee Sackhoff are the perfect happy couple, turned psychotic parents.
While there are a few nail-biting moments, we have seen this scare act many times before. The “unknown-girl-in-the-nightgown” and “demon possession” are nothing new. However, Mike Flanagan does deserve a round of applause for his editing skills. At the film’s climax, the childhood flashbacks and current reality are fused together wonderfully.
Unfortunately, the good does not outweigh the bad. But, with Blumhouse Productions calling the shots, don’t be surprised if they start rolling the cameras for “Oculus II.”
By Pamela Price
Rated R for terror, violence, some disturbing images and brief language.