This movie was basically everything I wanted it to be. The acting was good, the mood was tense, and the threat felt real. Oculus is a film in which you know what’s coming, and how bad it will be. Then it comes, and it is bad. Oculus doesn’t reinvent the horror wheel, but it does look at it through a new lens (pun intended). If you want a good old fashioned “they moved into a new house when…” horror film, then proceed.
Because this movie came from the producers of Paranormal Activity, I had relatively low hopes. I wanted this movie to be good, but I was expecting a let down because Paranormal Activity is a movie that, while doing some neat things visually, packs all of its punch in the feature’s trailer, and then falls flat. Since the trailer for Oculus looked good, and the movie seemed to have a fair budget, my gut just said that it was going to be over-produced and generic. Good news: I was wrong!
Flasback narratives often leave room for a lot of plot holes, but Oculus is successful in keeping the story seamless. At least on first inspection, I did not see any potential problem with the narrative. In addition, the actions of the characters and the events in story felt like they made sense. At no point did I find myself saying “lock the door!” or “don’t go up the stairs!” Interviews with the director Mike Flanagan reveal that logical character motivation was something that was important to him, and it shows. I can appreciate that he didn’t want us to feel stupid when we’re watching the movie, or that the characters are stupid. So often horror movies can leave a bad after taste for just this reason, which makes us shake our heads and exclaim “it would have been good, except,”
Another common snafoo that Oculus overcomes is bad child acting. There are plenty of movies in which young, underdeveloped actors can ruin the atmosphere, even for unscrupulous viewers. I have to say, these kids have it. Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan are believable siblings with believable reactions. If an evil mirror made your dad do horrible things, but he still looked like your dad, you’d sit in your room and cry but not run away too. The adorable Karen Gillan and up an comer Brenton Thwaites also make convincing older versions of Basso and Ryan, which makes for clean transitions between changes in time from scene to scene. While I’m at it, I might as well add that Katie Sackhoff and Rory Cochrane also did steller jobs here, with Cochrane especially pulling the weight of the majority of the film’s dramatic tension, which is something I’ve never seen him do as an actor. My Rory Cochrane is generally running about as the lovable stoner. Seriously, if there were a Fleshie award, I’d give it to this cast.
So, in summation, I’d say that if you like supernatural horror, and you like movies that are a bit of a puzzle, then Oculus is your best bet this October. Granted, when the end comes, it won’t knock your socks off with its inventiveness, but it will likely make you feel a bit squeamish.