Saturday, October 4, 2014

31 Days, 31 Horror Movies: Oculus

I'm kind of pissed at Oculus.

Look, I'm okay with the bad guy winning, I really am. In fact, I kind of dig those movies where the assumptions that the protagonists are going to win are upended. I'm okay if the vampire outsmarts the heroes or whatever - especially if she's hundreds of years old (like the mirror in Oculus). However, there needs to be a chance - no matter how long the odds. So the ending of Oculus by itself doesn't bother me.

What bothers me is that at a certain point I realized that it didn't matter what Kaylie and Tim did - they were screwed. From that moment on there was really no tension for me. If it had happened right at the end, that might be okay - in fact it probably would be awesome, because the Oculus would have tricked me as well. Unfortunately there was still plenty of movie to go when I came to that realization.

And it's too damn bad, because there was a lot of good tension and scares and even horror until that moment (it's the iPhone/fiancé sequence, if you're wondering).

The Medium
DVD from Netflix. Yeah, they still do those. Looked fine, no extras.

No extras?

The Movie
It's a good setup. A young man, Tim, is being release from a mental institution at the age of 21. He's been in there since the age of 11 for killing his father (who had killed his mother). He's met by his sister Kaylie who reminds him of a promise they made that night - that promise being to kill the mirror that they blame for driving both parents insane.

The mirror, it transpires, manipulates your perceptions - makes you see things that are so realistic that you might even take a bite out of a light bulb, thinking it was an apple. The sister has made preparations to document the phenomena to exonerate her brother before they destroy the mirror. She's had the mirror brought to the old house and set up a bunch of equipment to both document things and provide a number of safeguards. The brother - having had 10 years of therapy - no longer believes the mirror had anything to do with it, and Kaylie needs to convince him as well.

Oh good, those lights don't make the house more creepy at all.

So much misery could have been avoided if someone had just dropped the damn thing one of the several times it gets moved.

Anyway, not a bad setup for a horror film. Lots of disturbing imagery and the first sequence where the two kids do something on tape that they don't remember doing in reality is a pretty good one.

Part of the film takes place in flashback, revealing the events leading up to the night the parents died. These sections start out as pretty obvious flashbacks, but during the course of the film they start becoming part of the phenomena as the characters and the film transition between the two time periods. It's a subtle shift and a nice way of blurring reality for both the characters and the audience.

Leave Daddy alone, he's thinking about his Fantasy League.

The actors do an excellent job and Katee Sackoff as the mother is pretty damn good as she slowly descends into paranoia and violence. The girl who plays the young Kaylie is also fantastic and is probably someone to watch in the future.  Everyone else - including Amy Pond - is really good except for the actor playing the young Tim. He's not bad, but he's awkward in a way that a lot of child actors are. I probably wouldn't have noticed if the actress playing the sister hadn't been so damn good.

Anyone want to make a crack about Starbuck? No? Good.

The tension ratchets up considerably as things go along and you begin to question everything the character see, hear and do. At points it feels like the past is actively stalking them through the house. It feels like things are going bad, but there's still that crack in the mirror - evidence that there's a way to hurt it. (That the flashbacks show there is no crack means we know that it's something that happened during that horrible night.)

And then... and then you realize that the monster is not only not playing fair, that it's pretty much omnipotent. That nothing the characters do matter, because there's really no chance for them to know what they're seeing/doing. The movie tries to paper over this early on by intimating that technology will show what really is happening. However, during the scene with the iPhone and the fiancé that's revealed to be useless as well. I mean - you're viewing the technology through compromised eyes. It doesn't really matter what the screen is showing.

After that, it all feels inevitable. There's no suspense, no really story left. You know how it's going to end. It left me feeling deflated and annoyed.

Don't be annoyed! How about a hug?

The Bottom Line
So close. It's not a bad movie, really - and for other people it's possible (or probable) that the thing that bothered me won't bother them at all. For me, it really undercut a strong showing - and I'm ticked at the loss of opportunity more than anything.

I also found myself thinking that this might have worked more interestingly as two separate films. Make the flashbacks a movie by itself - giving more time to the parents and the dissolution of the family - and then a sequel that's the modern day. That they defeated it (sorta) once would make me more willing to buy into that chance the second time around.

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