When I saw the trailer for this film a while back, I was intrigued by what I saw. Sure, we’ve seen the haunted mirror film before, but that doesn’t bother me; I actually enjoy the notion of haunted mirrors and the notion that what we see in the reflection may not necessarily be real. With Oculus they take the idea of altered perception and play with us the viewer, and I have to admit I liked everything that this film had to offer; unfortunately what the film actually delivers is something entirely different.
When we first meet Tim (Garrett Ryan) and Kaylie (Annalise Basso) they are simply little kids hiding and scared of something in their home. Peeking out through the safety of their room, they see a man walking around with a gun. These are only glimpses to the story that will later unfold for us. With a jump to present day we meet an older Tim (Brenton Thwaites) who is finally being released from a mental facility; after all these years of therapy, he’s come to terms with these terrible event from his past and simply needs to accept there are no monsters or ghosts. Unfortunately for Tim his sister (now played by Karen Gillan), who has led what appears to be a privileged life yet obsessed over the past, believes that a mirror that once hung in their home is evil, and it’s her mission to reveal the truth and kill it.
Right out of the gate the best thing this film has going for it is the casting. These kids really do look like opposing versions of themselves. This makes the quick back-and-forth transitions between past and present not so jarring. It’s this jumping back and forth that for me becomes the film’s undoing, but there are plenty of other issues to squabble over.
When the older Kaylie reveals her plan to her brother as well as the cameras she has recording her investigation to reveal the evil in the mirror, it’s engaging, sure, but the missing piece of the mythology behind the mirror that isn’t presented is WHY any of this is happening? OK, we understand these strange occurrences have been connected to the mirror for over four centuries, but what occurred to make this mirror so evil? The film goes on to give us rules that are set for the mirror to follow to show the evil presence is spreading, but perhaps everything is in our characters’ heads and what occurred is nothing more than a shared psychosis.
If not for the performances by the younger kids as they witness the sanity of their mother and father slip, this film would fall on its face. As their parents continue to unravel and they are forced to confront the evil or simply their insane parents, it’s easy to believe the fear these children have, but I have one major problem with the film’s logic. For both the brother and sister in the past and present, why is it so hard for them to get help? Seriously, with the insane nonsense going on in the home, who cares if one person doesn’t believe you, when people are chained to walls or ripping out their own fingernails, you don’t just sit around in your room, you leave and don’t go back.
But ignoring real-life logic, the film at least does a good job at creating some decent scares and does have plenty of fun moments playing with what is real and what is fake in the film. But where the film should be ramping up, instead it does something slightly bizarre: it allows us a three-act structure with the kids in the past but concerning the older brother and sister we only get a seedling of what could be. It’s as though we are given one mini-film with the kids and with the older brother and sister it seems as though it’s only half the story. Had the film simply been about the younger kids and then had us wait for the sequel to see what happened next, this would have worked nicely, but instead we get this odd blend that leaves the film looking like a mess.
Sure, there will be people reading and feeling I simply just didn’t get the film, but really there is nothing all too complex to grasp here. Instead we are given a film with these gaps in not just logic but simply no explanation. No, I don’t need everything spelled out for me, but I’d still would like something resembling a reason why the mirror is possessed or simply an answer to what is coming after the brother and sister. There was so much promise this film had; I just wish this could have delivered on plot.
The film is based on writer/director’s short film Oculus: Chapter 3 The Man With The Plan. I’m hoping this can be an addition to the Blu-ray release down the road. Perhaps the short answers some questions that linger in this film, or I’ll simply have to talk to the mirror and instead of asking who is the fairest of them all, perhaps it could explain itself better.