'Oculus': Doing a (dis)service to haunted furniture everywhere
PHOTO BY INTREPID PICTURES
Where is it playing?: Out of the area: Park, Galaxy, Downtown Centre, Fremont, Regal
What's it rated?: R
What's it worth?: $8.00
What's it worth?: $2.00
Siblings engage in a deadly staring contest with a haunted mirror in Oculus, a horror story that distorts reality and interweaves the family’s dark past with their current efforts to prove that the mirror’s supernatural powers killed their parents. (104 min.)
Editor’s note: Glen Starkey and family took the weekend off to go glamping, so New Times contributing writer Ana Korgan and former staff writer Nick Powell took one for the team.
Nick: This flick has the sturdiest foundation I’ve seen in a horror movie in quite a while. First off, the main villain is an old mirror, and mirrors always have been and always will be super creepy—all full of some other me that might very well be doing spooky things while I’m not looking. What’s that handsome fellow up to? Something devious, I’d bet. Luckily, writer/director Mike Flanagan doesn’t bother explaining how this particular piece of glass drives people mad and consumes their souls. It just does, all right? Another mark in the “pro” column is the way the film toys with mental illness. Siblings Kaylie and Tim Russell went through some terrifying business as kids, when their father brutally tortured their mom and attacked the children until young Tim straight up capped his ass. While it later becomes clear that the mirror made him do it, there are early moments when it looks like a desperate Kaylie constructed the whole haunting story to explain away her father’s unfathomable violence. Then, just for maniacal giggles, Flanagan makes the movie even doper by giving the mirror the power to obscure reality so that the characters and the audience have no idea what’s actually happening and what’s an evil trick. Think you’re eating an apple? Nope, that’s a glass bulb bloodying up your tongue. Think you’re stabbing a dead-eyed ghost thing? Sorry, that was your loved one, dummy. The movie definitely achieved its goal of creeping me the hell out, but there were no character arcs at all. The siblings started out scared but determined to defeat the mirror and never grew from there. Also, great horror movies tend to make some sort of social commentary, and this one had plenty of potential for the millennial culture of self-obsession to take a few hits, if only the director had swung. Still, Oculus earned a solid “B” in my book.
Ana: I never see horror films in the theater. It’s not that I’m a scaredy-cat; I just get annoyed listening to other people shriek. Actually, I hate watching movies with other people in general. I caught this particular flick at a Monday afternoon matinee. I was the only person in the entire theater until two high school girls showed up and decided to sit right in front of me. Thankfully they didn’t shriek or provide me with a running commentary. Thankfully? I mean: I wish they freakin’ had. If they’d jumped and yelped at every cut-to camera shot, it would have given this film some street cred. If they’d gossiped the whole time, it might have provided some clarity to the plot. When it comes to horror films, I’m a fan of the Evil Dead variety: Let the demon retain some fragment of mystery. I don’t like zombie-like figures appearing in mirrors and disappearing when the spectator glances over their shoulder. Iam distracted by the CGI and low-budget makeup. I like my horror films like I like my pornography: There has to be something left to the imagination.
Nick: Sigh … porn left to the imagination? That’s just imagination, Ana. The thrills are purely psychological, mostly, and that’s how we got back on track talking Oculus instead of porn. Close call. I stand by my appreciation for the movie’s unique storytelling, even if it did take its sweet time getting started. The way the sister laid down the history of the mirror and her scientific method of thwarting it was sort of (very) boring for a while.
Ana: Here is what I did think was interesting about the execution of this endeavor: the back-and-forth of the present and the past. Instead of flashbacks, Flanagan went all gangsta and mixed it up with characters who practically interact with their 10-year-old selves as they bounce between terrifying memories and living nightmares. Also, the gore factor: ripping off a fingernail while trying to remove a band-aid or the self-extraction of molars using a set of pliers; it was never grandiose, but enough to make me squirm in my seat. Usually I try to evaluate a movie primarily on story (I’m a writer after all), but since this movie lacked complexity of any size, shape, or flavor, I was able to pay more attention to other components. The acting was what should be expected from a horror film. The adult characters are flat and devoid of motivation, while the child actors did a much better job of selling their fright. The camera work was decent. I don’t think the film would have benefited from any sort of camcorder-type shots, so I am glad they were excluded. Sound editing could have been better, but I’m not here to split hairs.
Nick: What?! For one moment, sort of before the climax, the sound was the coolest part! I didn’t notice either way most of the time, since I’m not a nerd, but all those science alarms and zombie/ghosts moaning at the same time gave me chills, Ana—literal chills! Watch this movie, people, but feel free to wait until it’s on video so it can set the mood for some hot home action (D’oh, we’re back to porn somehow!).
Contributor Nick Powell used to be a New Times staff writer and Sun contributor. Don’t bother him at email@example.com. Ana Korgan forgot her email password. Try if you dare at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if worse comes to worst, there’s always New Times Arts Editor Erin C. Messer at email@example.com.