When it comes to horror films, there’s a big difference between the ones viewers take home with them and the ones they just leave at the theater.
Movies that keep people up at night possess their minds with images and ideas too frightening to forget. The rest leave audience members with a few fleeting gasps.
Writer and director Mike Flanagan seems to understand the difference between these two types of movies. However, it also seemed like he had so many ideas about how to make “Oculus” memorable that he forgot how to use them.
“Oculus” tells the tale of two siblings, Kaylie and Tim Russell. The pair are still trying to cope with the murder of their mother at the hands of their father that occurred more than a decade ago. Tim, played by Brenton Thwaites, is released from a mental institution on his 21st birthday and is looking to get back in the world to complete his recovery.
Kaylie, played by Karen Gillan, has some different coping strategies. She becomes convinced that an ominous mirror in their home has supernatural abilities, and is what drove their father to kill their mother. Kaylie makes it her mission to prove that the mirror is haunted to clear her father’s name.
Part of Kaylie’s charm is her surprising amount of competence for a character in a horror movie. She surrounds the mirror with an intricate web of cameras and fail-safes, including an impressive contraption that will smash the mirror if a timer is not reset every 30 minutes.
But alas, this is a horror movie, so none of that matters in the end. What begins as the best episode of “Ghost Hunters” quickly goes wrong.
The mirror begins to wreak havoc on their minds, causing Kaylie and Tim to lose track of reality. The film weaves in and out of the present day as they start to relive the tragic events of their childhood. The truth about their past is revealed as they try to keep themselves alive in the present.
To the film’s credit, it manages to be genuinely unsettling at times. It forgoes cheap jump scares and gratuitous violence in favor of introducing clever new ways for the mirror to terrorize the siblings.
However, part of the problem is the mirror itself. Its origins go entirely unexplained, as do its motivations. The mirror ends up feeling less like the monster it should be and more like the inanimate object it is.
Another issue is that the mirror has so many abilities and “Oculus” only manages to scratch the surface of each one. Each time it seems that the mirror is about to reveal something truly disturbing, it changes the game. While this certainly keeps “Oculus” from getting boring, the film ends up trading depth for variety.
Since “Oculus” is about a malevolent mirror, it is no coincidence that the subjective nature of perception is one of its biggest themes. The best parts of the film have Kaylie and Tim realizing that they remember their pasts very differently.
Sadly, this ambiguity is cast aside about midway through the film in favor of a more direct approach. As a result, the second half becomes decidedly less captivating than the first.
The film’s mediocrity stings because it is obvious that “Oculus” could have been something great. There are some excellent ideas here, but they aren’t given the time or focus they need to develop into what they could have been.
“Oculus” is full of intriguing bits and pieces, but they never come together to form a satisfying whole. There are a few decent scares to be had, but I doubt “Oculus” will be haunting my dreams any time soon. It will remain safely at the theater in which I saw it, along with my 2 1/2 out of five star rating.
Connor Kelley is a junior in accounting. Please send all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.