Sunday, April 20, 2014

Horror Film Review

Oculus (2014):  Evil mirror flicks make me crazy.  Just break the damn thing and go for a beer.  Wouldn't make much of a movie, I suppose.  Ironically, this isn't much of a movie despite casting a couple of sci-fi icons and a hot young Australian dude. 

As children, Kaylie and Tim Russell (Doctor Who's Karen Gillan and Australian dude Brenton Thwaites) survived their father (Rory Cochrane) going psycho.  He killed their mom (Battlestar Galactica's Katee Sackhoff) but came to his senses in time to off himself before dusting the kids.  As adults, Tim has just been released from a mental hospital and Kaylie's obsessed with the mirror that caused Dad's meltdown.  Her plan?  Bring the mirror back to their old house, ask her emotionally fragile brother to join her, scientifically prove the mirror is behind 400 years worth of mysterious deaths, and then, finally, destroy it.  What could possibly go wrong?  Well...most everything, in fact.

One of Kaylie's many failsafe features is a boat anchor winched to the ceiling and set on a mechanical timer.  If it's not reset periodically, the winch releases and bye-bye mirror.  They play back video occasionally to see if the mirror influenced them to do things they don't remember.  At one point, when that does happen, Kaylie tells Tim they need to stick together.  Do they?  Of course not.  The rest of the film alternates between the past and present until the inevitable and predictable climax. 

Of the legion of faults, the most irritating is the dearth of information about the mirror's origins.  We're told of its dozens of victims but not where it came from.  Is it haunted, possessed, a doorway to hell?  No clue.  We do know its victims' spirits are still attached to it and aren't terribly happy.  Beyond that, we're in the dark.  And that's a mistake of Biblical proportions.  How can you hope to establish the proper tension and ultimately fear without it?  Instead, we're left with gross things like Kaylie biting into a light bulb she thinks is an apple and the dad literally chewing his fingernails off.  The only decent tension occurs in the flashbacks when we're following the plight of a pair of terrified children, although in my mind that's cheating. 

The Skinny

Acting:  Gillan's American accent isn't bad.  Her performance is spacey and neurotic and therefore spot-on.  (She's Scottish, by the way.)  Thwaites plays Tim like a puppy you want to take home and protect.  Young Kaylie is Annalise Basso, young Tim is Garrett Ryan.  Both do as well as (if not better than) their counterparts.
Story:  It's an evil mirror tale. 
Direction:  Bouncing back and forth in time could have been a convoluted nightmare.  It wasn't, so color me impressed on that count.
Production Values:  The budget was $5 million, which in the world of horror is a fortune.  The upshot is that the sets are professional as are the sound and lighting. 
Gore/FX:  Some blood from the light bulb and fingernail munching.  Oh, yeah...and when Mom breaks all her teeth eating pottery shards.  The CGI spirits are adequate. 
Scares:  I didn't jump, but others in the theater did a few times. 
Ending:  Anchors aweigh! 
Verdict:  Should you see Oculus?  If you're so inclined, definitely wait until it's on DVD or the internet.  Even then, I'd only recommend it to serious Amy Pond or Starbuck fans.  Or fans of hot young Australian studs. 

Rating:  2 out of 5

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