Oculus is a 2013 psychological/supernatural horror film directed by Mike Flanagan and starring Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites. The film marked Flanagan's mainstream film debut as a writer, director and editor, as well as Gillan's first lead role in a mainstream film.
In 2002, the Russell family moves into a new home, buying an antique mirror called the Lasser Glass for some new decor. Parents Marie (Katee Sackhoff) and Alan (Rory Cochrane) begin to behave increasingly oddly, and the family is soon shattered when young son Tim is accused of killing his father.
Eleven years later, Kaylie Russell (Gillan) recruits Tim (Thwaites), recently released from the asylum, to help prove the mirror's power and then destroy it. She believes it caused the deaths of their parents and scores of other people over the past three centuries. Tim's version of past events differs, offering a more realistic view of their childhood trauma.
They return to their childhood home after re-acquiring the Lasser Glass. Despite taking several precautions against the mirror's power to alter its victims' perception of reality, it refuses to go without a fight...
Has nothing to do with the Oculus Rift.
This film contains examples of:
- Adaptation Expansion: Based on a short film from 2006: Oculus Chapter 3: A Man with a Plan.
- Agent Mulder: Kaylie is one when it comes to the mirror: she believes wholeheartedly in its powers, has done intense research into its history and methods, and has constructed a strategy to destroy it taking these things into account.
- Agent Scully: Tim, in contrast, rationalizes everything about the mirror and the effect it had on their childhood, and when he starts getting proof that the mirror is actually supernatural, he initially thinks he's hallucinating and tries to call his doctor.
- And the Adventure Continues: In the most horrific way possible; the mirror is going to have a new home soon.
- Artifact of Doom / Cursed Item: The mirror is absurdly powerful and also evil. Kaylie barely has time to finish recording explanations of how its powers work and how she intends to counter them before it's caused them to move the cameras without realizing it. Most people who come into contact with it last a matter of weeks. Once Kaylie and Tim re-engage it, they last maybe a few hours.
- Attack of the Killer Whatever: Killer mirror in this case.
- The Bad Guy Wins: Kaylie's attempt to battle the mirror ends with her death and her brother Tim once again taking the fall for the mirror's actions. See Downer Ending for more details.
- Body Horror: The mirror tends to do this to its victims, causing them to gruesomely mutilate themselves, others, or both—with a notable opportunistic streak.
- Cassandra Truth: The neighbor Kaylie brings sides with the father, as the kids try and explain that the mirror is haunted and evil.
- Cell Phones Are Useless: Subverted - the phones work just fine, they just can't trust anything they hear or see over them while they're within the mirror's reach. And since they can't know for sure if they're within the mirror's reach, well...
- Chekhov's Gun: Kaylie's kill switch for the mirror ultimately does her in.
- The Chessmaster: The Lasser Glass itself becomes a character in its own right via the conflict between it and Kaylie. Kaylie herself attributes a human-like sapience to its malevolence, and thus has formulated plans against it based on eleven years of study around how it works:
- Kaylie knows that the mirror must have a range of influence and intends to record its interactions with plants and animals to measure it. The mirror takes advantage of her argument with her brother as a distraction, and they move the cameras away from the plants without noticing.
- Kaylie sets up regular phone calls so she can maintain returning contact with the uninfluenced outside world, but doesn't count on the mirror being able to manipulate what she hears on those calls.
- Kaylie knows that if she just tries to destroy the mirror outright, it'll stop her, so she sets up a mechanical kill switch that relies on human interaction not to trigger it, but to stop it, so it needs her alive. It thus manipulates Kaylie into standing in front of the mirror when it goes off, using her as a meat shield.
- Clear Their Name: Kaylie's motivation is to make everyone know her father wasn't insane and evil, and that her brother isn't crazy.
- Crazy-Prepared: Kaylie, who has analyzed the mirror viciously. It doesn't help her.
- Do Not Taunt Cthulhu: When Kaylie unveils the mirror she makes a snippy remark ("Hello again; you must be hungry"), then jumps as she sees a hallucination of a statue turning to look at her.
- Downer Ending: Both Kaylie and possibly her fiancé are dead, Tim is arrested for their murder, and the mirror is free to strike again.
- Dying as Yourself: Done as a Cruel Mercy by the mirror, releasing its hold on their parents just as they get killed.
- Demonic Possession: The mirror pulls this trick on Kaylie and Tim's parents, and tries to make them kill each other and their children.
- Eldritch Abomination: While mundane looking, the mirror might be counted as this considering all the things it does.
- Evil Phone: The mirror can mess with phones this way. The last time, it sounds like it's chanting something that sounds like something from the Cthulhu Mythos.
- Fingore: Alan pulls off one of his fingernails while under the influence of the mirror, believing it to be a band-aid. The rest of his nails join later.
- For the Evulz: The mirror seems to lack any other motivation other than to spread chaos and death.
- Glowing Eyes of Doom: Mirror spirits have highly reflective, almost glowing eyes.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: The anchor failsafe, which Kaylie installs in order to destroy the mirror if something happened to them, ends up killing her instead.
- Humanoid Abomination: The mirror will sometimes project out spirits that look like its past human victims, but which have Glowing Eyes of Doom, Tainted Veins and other Body Horror issues.
- Improbable Infant Survival:
- Played straight; Kaylie and Tim were the only ones who survived the mirror's influence. However, children eventually become adults...
- Averted in the mirror's backstory. Most of the victims were adults, but one killed her children.
- Invincible Villain: All of the characters' precautions ultimately prove ineffective by the end. Considering how Lovecraftian the movie is, this actually seems appropriate.
- Kick the Dog: Literally. The mirror is already a terrifyingly hostile presence to humans, but animals who get within range sicken, become aggressive, and eventually vanish. It's heavily implied the mirror somehow eats them.
- Little Miss Badass: Young Kaylie bashes her possessed mother in the head with a golf club and subsequently jumps out a second story window with no hesitation.
- Mad Woman In The Attic: The kids' mother ends like this before dying. In a twist, while she actually is dangerous, the father who locked her there is an even more present threat.
- Magic Mirror: The Big Bad and titular villain of the film—a mirror that kills anyone who maintains contact with it.
- Master of Illusion: The mirror...possibly. It's unclear if the Mind Screw moments in the film are the result of illusions or if the mirror is warping reality.
- Mind Screw: Between the flashback and the modern day parts - sometimes being shown in the same frame - it's hard to tell who is doing what.
- Obviously Evil: The Lasser Glass. Seemingly being the first person to ever look into its history, Kaylie unearths a shocking trail of blood. It is a sign of Tim's increasingly drastic denial that he does not relent to Kaylie's analysis of the mirror, which appears to skate by on no one realizing that anyone who owns it eventually winds up gruesomely dead.
- Pater Familicide: What kicks off the plot is Kaylie and Tim's father attempting to murder them.
- Perception Filter: The Lasser Glass may not be able to alter the camera footage, but it can apparently alter a person's perception of that footage, as shown when Kaylie looks at the shards of the smashed plant pot through her cell phone, and sees nothing, believing the shards are an illusion and leading her to possibly fatally stab her fiancé. Tim may have looked dead into the monitor, but the mirror didn't let him see Kaylie standing there.
- Properly Paranoid: Kaylie has a great plan to catch the mirror in the act. Sadly, the mirror can outthink her.
- Reality Warper: Possibly. It's not 100% clear if the mirror is simply changing a person's perception or changing reality.
- Shared Mass Hallucination: What Tim tries to write off the past as. In a case of Surprisingly Realistic Outcome, this is portrayed as being as dumb as it sounds and Kaylie calls him out on it.
- Skeptic No Longer: The psychological terror to a very great extent relies on the conflict of belief between Tim and Kaylie: Tim is skeptical of the mirror's supernatural powers, while Kaylie is not. Tim first channels the rationalizing explanations of academic psychology but is forced to revise his explanations in the face of overwhelming evidence later in the film.
- Tempting Fate: If you believe that Michael's death was another hallucination, then Kaylie promising him that things would go back to normal between them before she left for two days certainly qualifies, since she dies at the climax of the film.
- Unreliable Narrator: The film introduces the mirror from Kaylie's perspective, which is that it's a supernatural Reality Warper. Tim, however, offers a mundane explanation for what happened during his childhood with Kaylie, and uses psychology to explain Kaylie's memories of supernatural events.
- The Unreveal: We never learn where the mirror came from. Kaylie herself said she couldn't find any information about its origins.
- Whatever Happened to the Mouse?: "Dog" never returns. Although given what Kaylie was trying to use it for, it's possible it got "eaten" and the mirror made them think that Tim let it go.
- Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: ...That would be because the mirror can stop people from hitting it, even if they eventually become so hostile to it that they try taking blunt objects to it. Kaylie tries to get around this by setting up a kill switch that goes off independently and doesn't run on electricity, so it can't mess with it. The mirror can't stop it from going off, but it can still manipulate Kaylie into standing in just the right spot...
- Yank the Dog's Chain: The Mirror seems to delight in doing this. Kaylie believes she's overcome a nasty trick it plays on her, only to seemingly reveal via the phone that yes, her fiance really is there, dead.
- Your Soul Is Mine!: The mirror seems to retain the souls of its previous victims in its possession; they're seen as ghosts with mirror-like eyes throughout the movie. Notably, it uses the soul of one of its former victims, Marisol, to seduce the protagonists' father. It's also implied by a creepy nursery rhyme used to promote the film.See the mirror hanging there. Face of silver, frame of black. Oculus of glass, I stare. I can feel you staring back. I hear your voice, believe your lies. A window, portal, darkened door. Should you claim my staring eyes, my soul you hold forevermore.