Horror movies of late are succumbing to one of the worst, fairly new, horror tropes in history. Like any genre that’s been played to death, coming up with something new is a difficult feat. Even though the idea of a haunted mirror isn’t exactly new, Oculus does offer up a couple of fun tricks. The trope, however, is this: Oculus is set up for a sequel right from the start, and you can sort of tell that going in. The problem with that, besides the obvious money-grabbing issues, is that it makes the film unbearably predictable.
Now, at first Oculus offers up an interesting take on haunted possessions by showing us two parallel stories of the same siblings. Tim (Brenton Thwaites) and Kaylie (Karen Gillan), move into a new house with their parents Marie (Katee Sackhoff) and Alan (Rory Cochrane). Amongst the new items to furnish the house is an antique mirror with a typically creepy demeanor. Once the mirror is in place it starts to cause the average horror mischief.
In order to get a better understanding of the film, I also sought out and watched the Oculus short film, which was basically my favorite part of the feature film, but amateur. Director Mike Flanagan made this film by expanding his own short. Many people will probably know Flanagan from his independent horror gem, Absentia, which was able to take a little and make it go a long way. Unfortunately for Flanagan, a bigger budget doesn’t seem to equal bigger chills because Oculus ends up falling prey to more than one genre cliché.
Perhaps the worst of these cliche’s is showing off the “creature” far t0o often by the end of the film. Most directors need to start realizing that the more often we see these “creatures” the more often we can pick them apart, and the less likely they are to stay scary. Jump scares also happen right on cue the entire time. Even though one or two of those scares was decent, the predictable nature of the film itself took out a lot of the film’s power and atmosphere.
Its a little strange, too, that one of the film’s most interesting strengths also becomes its overbearing and monotonous downfall. Oculus switches back and forth between its two main characters as adults, and as children. Through some often clever camera and editing tricks they manage to seamlessly go from past to present. This would have been great if the movie only used it a handful of times, but towards the end of the movie the back and forth happens so often it started giving me something of a headache.
The characters just feel like they are in a no win situation. I smelled the ending a mile off and I’m sure many a horror veteran will have the same sort of reaction. It’s not that the movie is terrible. The acting is good, cinematography and design are both on point for the most part, and even the direction is handled with care. The downfall ends up being a predictable story that trips over itself on more than one occasion, taking a fairly simple 30-minute short, and stretching it to an overambitious 90-minute feature film.
It’s not a complete waste, but it’s also not one to run out for. I think it’s fairly overhyped at the moment.