Tim (Brenton Thwaites) is just out of the mental institution where he’s spent most of his childhood after being blamed for the brutal death of his parents. However, while his sister Kaylie (Karen Gillan) was bounced around the foster system, she held tight to the idea that Tim wasn’t really responsible – it was the Lasser Glass, an antique mirror she is convinced has supernatural powers and which destroyed her family.
She now has possession of the Lasser Glass and takes Tim back to their old house where she has set up cameras and alarms which she believes can prove that the mirror is evil. However she may have underestimated its power, as while Tim is initially convinced his sister is just trying to deny what he did (as his psychologists have made him take responsibility), strange things start happening where neither of them can trust what they’re seeing.
Based on director Mike Flanagan’s own short film (which is also included on the Blu-ray and is worth watching), Oculus is one of those horror films that constantly flits between being cool and a little bit different, and really rather silly. Indeed if you start thinking about it for more than a couple of minutes the whole thing collapses.
The main issue is that the Lasser Glass is supposed to be able to project visions, so that, for example, when Tim and Kaylie are in one room, they may really be somewhere else doing something they have absolutely no memory of. It means that while the film does its best to set out what’s real and what isn’t you can’t really trust what you’re seeing and it results in moments that are a little too convenient and don’t really make a huge amount of sense if you think about it logically.
However while you’re watching it’s very effective. A lot of the credit needs to go to ex-Doctor Who star Karen Gillan, who gives an incredibly smart performance as Kaylie, managing to bring urgency and interest to long sections of potentially boring exposition and adding genuine humanity to the idea of a woman so desperate to prove her previously happy family’s violent collapse wasn’t any of their faults, that she will do anything to get the evidence.
The film is slick, often very tense and effective at keeping you entertained. It may not be quite as original as it sometimes seems to like to think it is, but as 100 minutes of supernatural horror it works extremely well, and a mirror works much better as a sinister object than you might expect. It did take me while to get used to the way Oculus slips between the present and the past – showing what happened when Kaylie and Tim were kids – but after a while it became clear why it works the way it does, with the time-streams almost melding into one. It’s actually pretty creepy (even if there are moments where it’s used to paper over some of the logical cracks).
Although not a massive hit at the cinema, Oculus nevertheless has plenty of potential, and I’d certainly be intrigued about what they can do with the Lasser Glass next.
Overall Verdict: A slick, effective supernatural horror with plenty of tension and some very good ideas. The logic may break down as soon as you start thinking about it, but while it’s on the screen it certainly pulls you in.
‘Inside The Mirror: Creating Oculus’ Featurette
‘Oculus Chapter 2: The Man With The Plan’ Featurette
Reviewer: Tim Isaac