Karen Gillan leaves her Doctor Who days behind in this actually rather scary helping of horror hokum. For one thing, Oculus features the most frightening scene with a mirror since the 1945 Ealing horror anthology classic Dead of Night.
The plot is admirably ambitious with twists, turns and terrors taking place in two separate timelines, as Gillan’s character Kaylie and her brother Tim (Brenton Thwaites – recently seen as the Prince in Maleficent) try to prove a possessed mirror resulted in their parents becoming crazed killers. Yes, it’s all very daft, but it’s also very deft, with present investigations interspersed with agreeably distressing flashbacks to Kaylie and Tim as children (Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan respectively). As their parents gradually descend into loonyhood courtesy of demonic reflective surfaces, lines between fantasy and reality (and indeed past and present) begin to blur. All of this is the mark of many a great horror film (check out the afore-mentioned Dead of Night as well as classics including The Shining, The Sixth Sense, and pretty much any horror pic directed by Dario Argento, David Cronenberg or David Lynch).
Performances are all good (look out for Battlestar Galactica’s Katee Sackhoff as Kaylie’s mother) and Mike Flanagan directs with admirable restraint, mostly eschewing jump cliches in favour of lingering dread and suspense. The build up is nicely claustrophobic, particularly as most of the film is set in one location, and as with all good horror films the use of sound and music are key to the success of the movie. Ultimately the ending is predictable, but the film at least has the guts to follow through on its grim premise.
From a spiritual perspective this is, of course, utter cobblers. But as I have said on many occasions, unlike some of my fellow believers I don’t see any problem with enjoying the ghoulish, macabre thrills of a story like this, provided one has the temperament for it. Oculus rates as a decidedly above average though not outstanding entry in the genre. In short, it’s a diverting watch for horror fans.