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By Ryan McGinnis
Some mirrors just like to watch the world burn. Kind of like the mirror in the new movie “Oculus.”
See, a typical mirror might inadvertently tell a woman she’s fat. The “Oculus” mirror, on the other hand, will tell a woman she’s fat, and then kill her whole family. Building from this concept, director Mark Flanagan pitched this idea to Intrepid Pictures. Somehow he got the money. More impressively, he pulled it off.
Here’s the gist: “Oculus” is about an ominous looking mirror that passes through multiple generations, killing off its owners by making them see fantastic visions. The mirror’s subjects think they are in control, but in reality, the mirror manipulates them into committing suicide. Oh, and the mirror eats puppies and kills plants, too.
The film’s narrative follows siblings Kaylie and Tim Russell (played by Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites) in their attempt to destroy the mirror. When they were children, the mirror made their dad kill their mother years ago and then framed the brother for killing his father. This time, however, with cameras and a hardy plan in mind, they try to prove to authorities that the mirror really has supernatural capabilities.
“Oculus” isn’t out to win Oscars. Instead, the filmmakers are just trying to have fun with a silly premise. The actors may have the emotional dynamisms of puppets, but these same drawbacks are what make “Oculus” enjoyable to begin with. You don’t have to take the movie seriously, and it’s fun to root for the bad guy. “Oculus” stoops to the same tropes many horror movies are guilty of committing, but at least Flanagan puts some effort into making the movie-going experience worthwhile.
It’s all thanks to a strong narrative. Flanagan drives the movie’s progression through the mirror’s ability to make you see whatever it wants you to see. The brother and sister are forced to relive their last encounters with the mirror, creating a dizzying bridge between past and present as you watch both stories unfold simultaneously.
The effect is like watching “Lost,” where a flash back builds alongside the regular narrative. Because the events take place in the same locale as their last encounter, the movie turns into a psychological thriller, with the brother and sister succumbing to their childhood memories in place of what is really there. The bad acting hinders the movie at first, but once the ball gets rolling, the story is interesting enough to distract you from actors’ shortfalls. Half way through, you might even forget how ridiculous the situation is to begin with, too.
“Oculus” also doesn’t try to scare you every five minutes with a redundant pop-out scene. Frankly, this is where most horror films lose their touch; too many pop-out scenes can become a chore and adversely ruin suspense.
Thankfully, the film holds on to suspense. No, it’s not even in the same ballpark as say “The Shining” or a Hitchcock film, but it does a solid job for a B horror movie. It focuses on the progression of the characters’ freaked out states of mind more so than blaring screams, or of a figure turning a corner.
So, say it’s a Thursday night. You have $10 to spend. You won’t feel like you’re throwing money away if you go see “Oculus.” Sure, some may like it more than others, but it is a laughable, fun movie to see with friends. It’s not the next pulse-pounding “Paranormal Activity,” nor is it as slapstick as “The Evil Dead,” but it’s a happy medium that delivers tension without being too serious.
Ryan McGinnis can be reached at email@example.com.