Original release: April 11, mind 2014
Running time: 103 minutes
Director: Mike Flanagan
Writers: Mike Flanagan, treat Jeff Howard
Cast: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Rory Cochrane, Katee Sackhoff
When you’re little the world is very simple; there are things you’re not afraid of and then there are the things you are afraid of. I must’ve heard it in one of those stories older cousins like to tell smaller ones, I can’t really recall. Either way, somewhere at some point I started to become suspicious of mirrors, especially at night. I wouldn’t look directly into them because I was convinced they held evil spirits and if you stared too long… you might see them staring back!
Writer and director Mike Flanagan must’ve grown up hearing similar stories too. His 2013 film, Oculus, was one I stumbled upon late one night, and I wasn’t really expecting much because I’d never heard of it before. However, it turned out to be one of the best horror films I’d seen so far this decade.
Its story is focused on a brother and sister who survived a traumatic event when they were little. Shortly after moving to a new house with their mom (Katee Sackhoff) and dad (Rory Cochrane), a newly purchased antique mirror starts to take hold of them. Their dad becomes withdrawn and their mom starts to show signs of paranoia. These events escalate toward a horrific night in the house in 2002 when the parents become totally psychotic. Years later, when the siblings are all grown up, Tim (Brenton Thwaites) is released from a psychiatric hospital having come to accept that supernatural events were not to blame for what happened to his parents. However, his sister, Kaylie (Karen Gillan), remains determined to end the cycle of evil and destroy the mirror.
She takes him back to their childhood home and lays out her plan for how she intends to do this, but first she has to convince Tim that everything he’s been told at the hospital was a lie – that they really did experience a supernatural force in their house that slowly made their parents psychotic. Tracing the history of the mirror back to Bavaria in the 18th century, she explains to him in graphic detail everything she’s found out about the people who met gruesome ends near the cursed object.
Without any guarantee that what they perceive is actually real, Tim and Kaylie seem doomed to repeat history with the mirror twisting reality to its liking and forcing them into a heightened state of paranoia, similar to what their parents experienced some 11 years earlier. Oculus weaves together a tight and tense story filled with scares, but it also manages to tell two stories from two different times, sometimes seamlessly switching between them. One of the most nerve-wracking moments was watching Kaylie about to bite into a light bulb whilst under the illusion it was an apple. I seriously had to look away!
The editing in this film is superb as we see younger versions of Tim and Kaylie trying desperately to get help juxtaposed with their older versions. In this way we also learn more and more about what happened to their parents. Though Oculus manages to keep a few of its secrets to itself (for example; we never learn how the mirror came to be an object of evil), it really was one of the best horror films I’ve seen this decade. Its story holds up and its characters are well written. The actors do an amazing job, but what really impressed me was how well it went from past to present using the house as a controlled variable throughout the experiment Kaylie was hoping to conduct.
As for my own childhood fears regarding mirrors and evil spirits, after watching Oculus late the other night, I made sure to avoid them on my way up to bed….
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .