15 Jun 2014

Review - 'Oculus' is a Slow-Burn Mind-Bender that Plummets into Unnerving Dread

Director: Mike Flanagan
Writer: Mike Flanagan, Jeff Howard
Stars: Karn Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Katee Sackhoff
Running Time: 100 mins
Sub-Genre: Supernatural
Release: 13th June 2014

A woman tries to exonerate her brother, who was convicted of murder, by proving that the crime was committed by a supernatural phenomenon.

Mirror mirror on the wall, who's the scariest of them all? Oculus that's who, as it is better than any horror about a killer mirror has any right to be, and that my friends is a sure-fired fact. Penned from the inspiration of short horror Oculus: Chapter 3 - The Man with the Plan, Flanagan delivers a feature-length heart-stopper that packs a strong punch with a wicked after-taste, tapping back to the short horror's roots whilst enhancing the experience to a more cinematic approach. Thankfully, the idea to feature length a short has worked in his favour, as opposed to Mama which Guillermo del Toro was unable to control to its full potential, and Oculus proves already to be a horror experience you might not ever forget.

Ranking close behind the likes of The Cabin in the Woods, and in some cases You're Next, Oculus it too good for its own right, and it is its intelligence that gets it there. Flanagan knowingly twisted the narrative into a downward spiral, a constant turn for the worst while the story progresses into smarter territory, and it's his control over the multiple narrative strands and complexity that shines the brightest, as it's his clever direction that drives the unbeatable force that is Oculus' premise and formula. 

Typically, a plot of this stature gets lost in its own ambiguity, but Flanagan handles with with precise care, delivering key narrative points with an exceptional flare, proving to be a well-fulled powerhouse of a horror that drives right through without barely making a mark; but it is the slow-burn formula that damages its approach, as the appeal is not to everyone's taste, and certainly wasn't to mine. But admiration goes to the overall release as it shifts from a slow but steady first act to a pacy and tense finale that blows the doors wide open for a sequel and future franchise whilst hitting a heart-breaking stop that will leave for a shocking final act that may not be admired by all, especially by those who irritation is rooted from an ending that leaves more questions unanswered than answered. Oculus is basically that; a shock-till-you-drop mind-bender with question upon question with not all of which being answered, but this selective attractiveness is what engages you, and although gratification isn't exactly restored when the end credits roll, you begin to admire that some questions have been left untouched, and devising your own theories is just as involving as the cinematic experience itself. 

Driven soulfully by characters and not by minor moment jump scares, Flanagan formulates a character driven narrative, delivering a select cast of characters that we end up caring for; and although common sense may not always be on their agenda, the energy that is fed off of each other is built from the naturalism of the characters, and it is the performances from the cast that makes this work. Sackhoff and Gillan especially delivery not-worthy performances that are both honest and admirable, also playing in favour with their characters that prove strongest against the rest. The young cast of Garrett Ryan and Annalise Basso especially are surprisingly strong in their area, and drive the flashback narrative with honest and raw emotion, causing for an uneasy and dread-filled experience when the shit started hitting the fan, which was also enhanced by the performances of Sackhoff and Cochrane who are convincing, and at times quite terrifying.

Oculus isn't exactly scary, I mean its a narrative driven horror with great depth (which isn't like anything WWE Studios has released before, considering most of their work is pure horse shit), and although it is aided from a few jump scares, it's purely driven on dread, and the fear of what's to come, considering you basically know how things have or are going to turn out due to the jumping in time frames which is a frequent occurrence. There are a few moments here and there that are sure to cause some over-thinking whilst laying in darkness alone, but ultimately Oculus is let down by its weak sense of how to scare an audience. Nevertheless, Flanagan knows how to tap into what really scares people, and although he doesn't express it quite enough here, it at times becomes extremely evident, and it will become evident to those who vanity levels are a little higher than others and love a good stare into a mirror.

Fun Fact: Remember when Katee Sackhoff played Jen in Halloween: Resurrection? Do you also remember just how terrible she was in it, just how terrible her character was and just how terrible the film on a whole was? I do.

VERDICT: Flanagan delivers a feature-length heart-stopper that packs a strong punch with a wicked after-taste, and although it seems at times deprived of true scares, Oculus is injected with enough dread and intelligent complexity to outshine the other genre films of 2014.

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