The last few years have been better than usual for horror fans — particularly in the month of April. In 2012 we finally saw the brilliant but long-delayed Cabin in the Woods and last year we saw Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead get a facelift. I had high hopes walking into Oculus — this year’s April offering — but sadly, the third time was not the charm. Extending his eight years old short film (Oculus: Chapter 3 – The Man with the Plan), co-writer/director Mike Flanagan paints himself into a corner with a botched twist ending you’ll see coming a mile away.
Tim (Brenton Thwaites) is just getting out of a mental institute after 11 years for the murder of his father, Alan (Rory Cochrane). His sister Kaylie (Karen Gillan) wants to help him start his new life, but not before they try to kill whatever evil entity is living inside an antique mirror. Kaylie is obsessed with the notion that the mirror was what caused their mother (Katee Sackhoff) and father to go crazy, resulting in Tim and Kaylie (played by Garrett Ryan in the flashback sequences and Annalise Basso as Young Kaylie) shooting their dad in self-defense after he kills their mother. Now, Kaylie has tracked down the mirror to force Tim into helping her destroy it before it can kill again.
Oculus comes with a heavy-handed marketing campaign touting it’s from the same producer of Paranormal Activity and Insidious. This is far from the same league as both Insidious films, but is a step up from any of the PA movies — although that’s not really saying much. Flanagan does manage to present some grotesque imagery involving fingernails, along with munching on glass and pottery, that’s all you’re getting. And while I appreciate a slow-burn (see We Are What We Are for the best recent example), Oculus heads exactly where you think it’s going, with absolutely no surprises along the way, making it feel way too long.
A sense of dread permeates most of the film, but is brought down even more by its cast. The worst is Sackhoff. While she may be a genre-favorite, I cannot wrap my head around her appeal. She is a horrible actress and sucks the life out of every scene she’s in faster than the movie’s evil mirror can from plants or the family dog. There aren’t even any good jump scares — the easiest horror cliché to pull off. Maybe had the ending not been presented so hackneyed it would have wound up being another genre triumph, but all it does is absolutely ruin everything that’s come before. I hated the entirely too happy ending of The Conjuring, but its ending was nowhere near as much of a buzzkill as Oculus.
Oculus is most likely to be sought out by anyone needing a Gillan fix while we wait for Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy in August. Even Amy Pond’s biggest fans won’t bother with this. While it may make a fair amount of cash due to a lack of genre fare, with something as amazing as Captain America: The Winter Soldier heading into only in its second weekend, Oculus is bound to drop off the map before most people even realize it’s in theaters.
Photos courtesy Relativity Media
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