MOVIE REVIEW: “Oculus,” A Mixed Bag

Reflective surfaces have captivated mankind’s imagination since time immemorial. Before the mirror was even invented, man was mesmerized by his own image in bodies of water. This spurred great legends like that of Narcissus. Reflections back then were believed to be of great metaphysical significance.

As we flash forward to modern cinema, we can see that the spirit in the mirror is no stranger to the supernatural thriller. And, admit or not, we see a bit of poetic magic in our reflections just as out ancestors did. The current trend in modern movies to “reflect on reflection” began with the 2003 Korean film “Inside the Mirror.” We had an American remake with Keifer Sutherland followed by a sequel. We also see this trend in lower budget films such as 2007’s “Dark Mirror.”

This weekend “Oculus” hits the theaters, and while it is a bit convoluted, there is some genuine originality to it. At the beginning of the film Tim Russell (Brenton Thwaites) is a 21-year-old man about to be released from a mental institution. He has suffered from a huge childhood trauma (we will learn more of that later), but for now is deemed fit to re-enter society. No sooner is he released than his 23-year-old sister Kailee (played by pretty Scottish redhead Karen Gillian) is ready to pull him back into madness.

Kailee believes a supernatural force trapped in a mirror is responsible for the trauma both of them experienced as children. She has researched the history of the mirror and believes it has killed people around the world from the 1700s on. Most importantly, she believes that the mirror caused the death of their mother and caused Tim to shoot his own father (for which he was institutionalized). Kailee has recently re-possessed the mirror (no pun intended) and has an elaborate plan to confront the spirit or force in it. Her plan includes all kinds of safeguards, but—with this kind of supernatural manifestation—all bets are off.

Naturally, Tim tries to talk her out of her intention to confront the unknown force it, but she won’t listen. From here, the movie does constant flashbacks to when Tim and Kailee were children, then flashes forward to the present. This undoubtedly is included to confuse the viewer and make him/her question what is real. It is all part of the mirror playing constant mind-tricks on them. (There is a brilliant one involving an apple and a lightbulb). Spirits of the mirror’s victims are shown sporadically throughout the film. They are creepy at first when shown individually, but near the end when they gang up, it has too much of a funhouse feel. The “Insidious” films were marred by the same problem.

The two protagonists really have a challenge on their hands as the mirror has almost limitless craftiness, and really is impossible to confront no matter how well you plan your attack. (Spoiler Alert) In regard to the ending if you absolutely have to have a happy one this film may not be for you. On the other hand if you are tired of big-budget movie explosions and the like, and want to see something completely eerie (and done on a small $5 million budget), you may just want to give “Oculus” a try.

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