'Oculus' review: Thriller offers up twisted scares

Rating

3 Stars3/5

Liz Braun, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:19 PM ET

Things are never exactly what they appear to be in the horror thriller, Oculus.

The film is about a mirror alleged to harbour some sort of evil entity, and the family shattered by the mirror's supernatural pull.

The story moves back and forth in time. Here is a happy nuclear family — mom, dad and two children — moving into a new house, and here's an antique mirror being hung up in dad's home office. As time passes it seems something has come into their house with that mirror. Both mom and dad undergo alterations in their personality, and tragedy follows; the kids, Kaylie and Tim, are orphaned.

A decade passes. Now adults, Kaylie (Karen Gillan) and Tim (Brenton Thwaites) meet up at their childhood home — which they've inherited. After the tragedy, Tim is a graduate of a psychiatric institution and Kaylie has found her way through a series of foster homes; each maintains a different version of what happened to their parents on that fateful night from the past.

Tim believes it can all be explained away in psychiatric terms, but Kaylie is obsessed by what she sees as the mirror's effect on her parents. No way their dad (Rory Cochrane) was a killer, she insists. No way their mother (Katee Sackhoff) went mad. It was all the mirror's evil power.

To try to prove her beliefs, Kaylie has rigged the house with cameras, computers, emergency lights and other devices to try to prove the existence of a malevolent force in the mirror. She's also researched the history of the antique mirror, and she tells her brother Tim how many past owners of the thing have died horribly in the last century or two. Tim asserts that what happened in their childhood is all about the mental illness in their family.

Soon enough, weird things begin to happen at the house. They trigger memories of the past in both Tim and Kaylie, and a clearer picture of their childhood trauma begins to emerge. Flashbacks and events in present time begin to crowd together.

The filmmaker, Mike Flanagan (Absentia), keeps the action moving between past and present and between reality and fantasy; watching Kaylie and Tim try to differentiate between what's really happening to them and what's illusion is a bit of genius.

A bit of bloody genius, as it happens.

Oculus is creepy, thanks to the careful creation of atmosphere and a sense of the surreal in the visuals. It's stronger than most films in the genre, thanks to good storytelling and a strong cast (which includes Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan as the terrified young Kaylie and Tim.)

The end of the tale seems inevitable, and yet still open to interpretation. Nothing like a bit of ambiguity to keep things interesting.

Twitter: @LizBraunSun

Liz.braun@sunmedia.ca


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