Reviews: Oculus

The Movie that Won\'t Stop Cheating

Oculus has a promising premise, but it isnít long before that promise gets broken. It begins with a guy called Tim, who gets released from a mental institute. It turns out that something bad happened when he was a kid in relation to an antique mirror. Now his sister has gotten in contact, saying she has managed to get a hold of that mirror, and she wants the two of them to prove the thing is haunted and thus responsible for ruining their childhood.

What is established early on is that the mirror (allegedly) has a means of messing with people's perception of the real world. That means that although the two siblings have gone to great lengths to provide a bunch of fail safes, including a deadman switch that will smash the mirror, none of these will work if the mirror simply tricks them into thinking they've worked. This apparently never occurred to them before setting up the elaborate experiment. Guess what happens.

This is a ghost story, and I'm a sucker for cool ghosts, especially if the movie doesn't do the boring thing of making the ghosts screw around for two hours, possess someone, and then get exorcised. This movie does have cool looking ghosts, but they don't fit very well into the story. They just sort of hang around, grinning malevolently whilst the mirror itself seems to do all the actual work. We're never given a reason for why the mirror is being evil, and this isnít a problem; many a great horror movies has been made involving an intangible, unexplained evil. But it does need explaining why the hell there are all these other ghost assholes keep showing up, stealing the mirror's thunder.

The bigger problem though is that for all its atmosphere and style, the movie very quickly boils down to a routine of one character trying to do something, only to realise (to their continuing horror) that they didnít do that thing but some other thing whilst under influence. A movie can only play the surprise dream sequence card once before it starts to piss off the audience, and this movie essentially does it non-stop.

When any given moment of the movie can be imaginary you stop being invested, because you know you're just being jerked around. Oculus has plenty of scares, but the movie does not leave you in any way satisfied afterwards because it never gets tired of cheating the viewer to tell its story.

Pretty okay.

Clever enough, simple and fairly effective.

Whether you like the film is probably going to be based on your reaction to the character's decisions and your interpretation of what's actually happening.

Personally I'd say the atmosphere is excellent, but I won't be watching it again. It was entertaining and fairly restrained, which made it a lot more effective. I'm definitely glad I've seen it but I don't care enough to see it more than once.

What Did the Director Want to Accomplish?

While the beginning of the movie was playing with the psychological horror bits to a T and doing it very well with it's choice of actors, its setting and its conflict, there were a couple glaring flaws that lead to a very disappointing ending. Is that what the director was aiming for, or was this a coincidental accident? If it was exploring how NOT to destroy a malicious illusionary artifact that lead to the insanity and death of those characters and their family, then it could have illustrated that point somehow. Instead, you are brought into a story where the characters are likeable, and encourage you to want to see them survive. They are intelligent, and take precautions to assure no mistakes are made by their actions, and even have different points of view: one from the believer, one from the skeptic.

Unfortunately, there was no reason why the protagonists couldn't seemingly think of just executing their fail-safe and destroying the mirror. There was no allusion to hubris, pride or any tragic element that would lead to one of the characters acting that foolishly. After acquiring proof that, as the mirror fed on the bait, it's illusions got stronger, that should have been enough to convince the protagonists to leave the mirror to it's demise and leave.

Instead you get an ending where one of the main characters die, the second takes the blame for their "murder", and the mirror which caused all of this is free to kill once again. Instead of making one feel unsettled that the mirror is manipulative and a force of horror, it disappoints the audience that such likeable characters fail, and in the end, lose everything. The movie wasn't about how evil and calculated the mirror was, but how the characters, who previously lost their parents because of that mirror's insanity, and wanted to set things right and defeat the evil that personally destroyed their childhoods.

From what I gathered from the movie, that may have been what the director was aiming for: to invalidate the main characters' cause and passion, end the movie with the mirror outsmarting those who wanted to destroy it, and have the viewers turn off the TV in morose disappointment. If the director wanted to disappoint the audience, there are less annoying and less expensive ways of accomplishing this. Other reviews mirror my thoughts of nonfulfillment, joke intended.
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