Oculus is a horror movie released in 2013, starring Karen Gillan. It is based on a short film by the same director, Mike Flanagan.
The film opens at an auction house, as a 400 year old mirror, known as the Lasser Glass, is auctioned off to a wealthy buyer. One of the auction curators, a young woman named Kaylie, has a special interest in the mirror, and talks to it as if it's alive. Elsewhere, her younger brother Tim is being released from the psychiatric hospital where he has been held since the age of 10. Years of therapy that have convinced him that the horrific supernatural murder of his and Kaylie's parents was just a delusion that his childhood mind created to explain an unbearable experience.
Kaylie and Tim meet up for the first time since the death of their parents, and Kaylie informs him of her plan to prove that the mirror is evil and document it all on camera. She has spent years researching the path of human destruction taken by the mirror, waiting for Tim to be released so the two of them can finally take revenge.
Tim refuses at first, but eventually ends up in their childhood home with Kaylie, who has set up an elaborate system of cameras, alarms and fail safes to protect them from the mirror that now hangs on the wall. The pinnacle of her plan involves a kill switch that will send a weighted hammer down to smash the mirror if no humans are alive to reset the timer, a necessary tactic since the mirror mind-controls anyone who deliberately tries to destroy it.
There are actually two stories going on here, as flashbacks to the past are interspersed throughout the movie. We see Kaylie and Tim as kids, the children of happily married Alan and Marie. Alan buys the Lasser Glass and hangs it in his office, and terrible events begin to occur as it slowly poisons his mind.
Oculus hooked me very quickly. The idea of a haunted mirror has been done before, but this time there's the unusual fact that the main character knows upfront that it's dangerous. The idea of a child wanting revenge on the ghost that destroyed her family is an interesting twist. I was also fascinated by the experimental trap that Kaylie made; I have a soft spot for ghost hunting shows, where paranormal experts use scientific equipment to attempt to capture footage of spirits, and this fit right into that type of experimentation.
Kaylie is very genre savvy, predicting the usual ghostly tactics like draining electricity and impersonating the voices of loved ones. She has cameras recording other cameras, plants set up at various intervals to test the mirror's range of influence, battery powered lights, and multiple timers to remind the siblings to eat and drink. It was as well thought out a plan as one could imagine. The only bad part was the poor little Boston Terrier that she brought in to "feed" to the mirror...plants are one thing, but an innocent dog? Bad Kaylie!
My favorite scene was near the beginning of the experiment, when nothing had yet happened, and Tim was about to give up on his sister and leave her to her delusions. Then they look into the room...and see a row of withered plants that had been fine only a few minutes ago. Kaylie then reveals footage of the two of them moving cameras around, which neither of them remember doing. Goosebumps for me! The mind games and psychological horror only escalate from there.
There is some gore in this film. The mirror gets its jollies by making people torture themselves to death, and during Kaylie's history tour she shows brief glimpses of crime scene photos of corpses mangled in creatively horrifying ways. The flashbacks offer some cringe-worthy scenes of fingernails being ripped off and a person eating shards of a broken plate as blood pours from her mouth. Another body-horror scene happens in the present day story line...it involves an apple being set down right beside a light bulb. You can figure out what happens next!
Conclusion - thumbs up!
I really enjoyed Oculus a lot! Kaylie and Tim have an interesting brother/sister dynamic, both in the flashbacks where they have to deal with the worsening insanity of their parents, and in the present day when they have conflicting views of their childhood experiences. Seeing Kaylie start getting proof of the mirror's powers is satisfying, and the confusion of never knowing what is real and what is hallucinated gives the story a lot of suspense. That is one devious mirror, lemme tell ya.
I give Oculus 4 1/2 out of 5 stars. I like the concept, the characters, the dual story lines, and the mind control aspect. I was glued to the screen the entire time, and I would love to see a sequel. I recommend this film to anyone who enjoys psychological horror, and it also might appeal to anyone who likes ghost hunting shows like I do! It is available on home DVD and Netflix.