Oculus

Director: Mike Flanagan

Starring: Karen Gillan,  Brenton ThwaitesKatee Sackhoff, Rory Cochrane, Annalise Basso, Garrett Ryan

Written by: Jeff Howard, (also based on a short screenplay) Mike Flanagan and (based on a short screenplay) Jeff Seidman

Running Time: 104 mins

Cert: 15

Release date: 13th June 2014

At last! A modern horror film that doesn’t rely on the usual “they’re behind you!” “quiet, quiet, LOUD!” school to give the audience it’s scares. In fact, this tries to be different in many ways and while it might not always succeed, at least it has the guts to be different and deliver something that looks fresh and inventive, as well as have a story that messes with your mind.

Tim Russell is being released from hospital where he was committed 10 years earlier after murdering his father. Big sister, Kaylie, knows that it wasn’t his fault but believes it has something to do with a mirror her parents bought when moving into their new home, which could be linked with a series of other unexplained deaths. Determined to sweep away the demons within, she persuades Tim to join her in an exercise to prove her theory is right, not realising that it would open a whole world where the past catches up with the present and the pair would relive the nightmares of that fatal time.

Taking a well-worn horror staple, the mirror, co-writer and director Mike Flanagan, based on a short film he had previously made, has shaken things up. Instead of the usual ghostly apparitions and spooky faces, he uses another cliché in the horror world; the flashback, to enhance his spine-tingling tale of possession beyond the reflective glass.

At the same time, he plays around with the conventions of the past and merges them with the present, so the leads, who have lived the nightmare of the murder, come face-to-face with those very same events, making the viewer question if they are actually there or if they are hallucinating it. A clever ploy and one that works even more effectively when it really hits it stride in the final act.

Sometimes it is all a bit too clever for its own good and you find yourself questioning what is going on but as far as a tool to produce shocks and an air of creepiness, it works well. So it doesn’t go out for the lashings of blood and guts you would normally find in most modern horrors and the amount of the “jumpy bits” are reduced drastically, Flanagan has gone back to a time where imagination is more preferential while at the same time, is obviously influenced by the Italian Gaillo, (Dario Argento’s Suspiria springs to mind) in which nothing is as it seems.

Flanagan has also drawn out some solid performances from his cast, a hard thing to do considering in most horror films it’s all running and screaming. Karen Gillan, trying to find life after Doctor Who, is perfect as Kaylie, a strong-willed woman with a steely determination to get to the bottom of things. She commands the screen with her piercing green eyes and I can see her breaking away with style and grace.  Brenton Thwaites also holds his own as Tim, although it does feel slightly underwritten considering what an important role he plays in the proceedings. It’s always good to see Katee Sackhoff on-screen and her, as mother, she gets to show what a diverse talent she is, going from homely to complete psycho.

It’s not perfect by a long shot. There is far too much explaining going on and sometimes the cross-overs from past and present does get confusing but you cannot help but be supportive to a horror film that is trying something different. While it doesn’t hand everything on a plate for the audience to just accept, it does have a nasty atmosphere running through it and there are plenty of shocks and twists to keep the true horror fan happy. Those thinking it’s going to be another Sinister or Insidious should look elsewhere. Those looking for something a little more taxing and thought-provoking, this could be right up your street.

3/5

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