Whereas 2013 was one of the finest years in recent memory for horror cinema, with releases such as The Conjuring and Evil Dead, 2014 has thus far fallen flat in the genre department, churning out one forgettable dud after another. Out of this pitiful selection, there is only one movie that stands out in my memory: the frenzied, yet intricate, Oculus.
Directed with marginal aplomb by underground helmet Mike Flanagan and adapted from his own short of the same name, Oculus concerns a young woman named Kaylie (Karen Gillan, “Doctor Who”), who picks up her brother Tim (Brenton Thwaites, Maleficent) from a mental institution, purportedly in order to help him adjust to civilian life. In reality, her plan is more sinister: Through her job as an antiques dealer, she has managed to get her hands on the spooky, old floor-length mirror she believes possessed and ultimately killed their parents a decade earlier.
However, Tim doesn’t believe a word of it, preferring to think that he and Kaylie merely suffered dual nervous breakdowns stemming from their parents death. To prove him wrong, Kaylie sets up an elaborate system of cameras in their old house, straps the mirror down and proceeds to document it in the hopes of catching something otherworldly on camera. From there, as you might imagine, things go deadly wrong and the typical jump-scare shenanigans ensue.
This setup is obviously pretty cockamamie, and neither the performances nor the writing betray the fact that this is a low-rent, B movie. With that being said, there are some twists and turns which separate this film from the pack. For one, the way in which the mirror manipulates its victims with hallucinations is quite imaginative and sets up some fun set-pieces. Secondly, the movie plays with structure in an interesting manner, laying out the main plot parallel to a separate flashback arc showing what happened to the siblings’ parents originally. As we near the climax, these two plot threads begin to bleed together as the fiendish mirror skews space and time, causing our sibling heroes to creepily inhabit their parents’ identities in the past.
This film isn’t great, but it is something, and that’s more than I can say for every other horror flick released this year so far. Now, said ‘little bit of something’ arrives on DVD and Blu-Ray today and could easily make ideal viewing for a lazy Sunday afternoon or a microwave-popcorn-and-gossip teen sleepover. Special features include a making-of documentary, deleted scenes and a restored version of the original short film. If you’ve been feeling deprived of cheap frights recently, Oculus might just be your best bet.