“Oculus,” Reviewed: Dark Matters.


Everything old is new again in Oculus (R), a familiar story well told by director Mike Flanagan. A pair of early-20s siblings (Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites), reunited after years apart, join forces to defeat whatever evil forces are present in the haunted antique mirror that destroyed their family a decade earlier. Much of the film takes place over the course of one night in their deserted family home, with narrative-twisting flashbacks helping to fill in the gaps of what happened with mom and dad (Katee Sackhoff and Rory Cochrane).

Callouts to earlier horror classics abound, from The Shining (possessed dad, terrorized kids) and The Blair Witch Project (over-narrated video recording of sheer terror) to even Jaws, with the grown children going after this mirror with the same enthusiastic preparation as Roy Scheider & Co. pursuing their great white shark. It’s fun to watch Gillan’s character function as a gung-ho ghostbuster – not least because we can easily predict that she’s in way over her head.

I wish Gillan and Thwaites were better actors; they often seem to be too obviously reading their lines. (As their younger selves, Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan are much more effective.) But mood and storytelling skill carry the day here: Flanagan’s expert handling of his tale – especially the cross-cutting between past and present storylines – makes for a smart, twisty and downright scary experience. It’s hard not to be absorbed by the twisted goings-on in that dark house, and by the implacable, unblinking eye of that ominous mirror taking everything in. The conclusion is easy to predict, but if they can make five movies (and counting) out of Paranormal Activity, a second Oculus will be child’s play – and not for the faint of heart.

(IMAGE: Karen Gillan in Oculus. Photo courtesy of Relativity Media.)