Director: Mike Flanagan.
Starring: Karen Gillan, Brendon Thwaites, Rory Cochrane, Katee Sackhoff, Annalise Basso, Garrett Ryan.
Running Time: 104 minutes.
Synopsis: Kaylie tries to prove her brother is innocent of the murder he was imprisoned for more than a decade ago – but her experiments threaten to give rise to old demons.
Horror is a curiously infuriating genre – easy to do, but hard to get right. Mostly this is due to a lack of originality across horror as a whole in recent years; though, to be fair, there are very few themes that haven’t been explored in the genre by this point. Writer/director Mike Flanagan takes a familiar trope – a possessed mirror – and tries to turn it into something fresh and original with OCULUS. Sadly, a predictable script wears out the film’s primary mechanic long before it tries to make us care about its characters – though it at least offers plenty of scares along the way.
Billed as a psychological horror, OCULUS follows brother-sister duo Tim (Brenton Thwaites) and Kaylie Russell (Karen Gillan) as they attempt to prove the existence of a supernatural demon – and in doing so, clear Tim’s name of murder. The narrative flip-flops between two well-woven timelines: the events leading up to the murder Tim was incarcerated for as a boy, and Kaylie’s attempts as an adult to capture footage of the spirit on film through a controlled experiment.
As Kaylie talks us through the various components of this experiment, the film’s ending becomes painfully obvious, and thus the only novelty OCULUS can offer is in how it gets there – but it still removes any notion of unpredictability. Much of the script also relies on a hallucinatory plot device, so that when the demon starts to show itself, we’re never quite sure whether what we’re seeing is real. This is an interesting mechanic at first, as we see Kaylie tricked into thinking she’s eaten a light bulb (in one of the film’s gorier scenes), but it soon becomes overused – to the point where we simply don’t care whether we’re seeing reality or not.
This ultimately takes away from the characters themselves, though Gillan and Thwaites do all they can with what they’re given. It’s nice to see Gillan not limiting herself to certain genres post-Doctor Who, with a romcom already under her belt and a sci-fi superhero adventure also on the way – though you’ll have to cope with her American accent here. Not that it’s a bad accent; rather, fans of Who will simply find that it doesn’t feel a natural fit for the otherwise talented actress.
The flashback narrative also sees Rory Cochrane (ARGO, PUBLIC ENEMIES) channelling his inner Jack Nicholson as the father driven slowly insane, in some of the film’s tensest moments. Yet, for all its merits, OCULUS simply falls flat in the end – squandering its themes with the ending we’ve seen coming for the past 90 minutes, rather than bringing anything new to the table. It seems it’s back to the drawing board for fans of original horror, though for those simply wanting a quick Saturday night fright, OCULUS should be enough to satisfy.
[usr=3] OCULUS opens in UK cinemas on Friday 13th June.