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Oculus Review: Malevolent Mirror Makes Mayhem
Oculus revolves around siblings Tim and Kaylie Russell, whose family was shattered by insanity and murder all thanks to a mirror called The Lasser Glass. Their father bought it when they moved into a new home and hung it in his office. But the Lasser Glass was no ordinary mirror. Over time, it drove their mom, Marie (Katee Sackhoff) crazy with jealousy over an imaginary affair and drove their dad, Alan (Rory Cochran) just crazy. Tim had to end his father’s murderous rampage by shooting him dead. He went to an asylum for the crime and Kaylie went into the foster care system.
When Tim gets out, he’s a handsome twenty-something who just wants to get on with his life. His therapy has solidified a normal explanation for his father’s actions and made the Lasser Glass just a piece of furniture. Not so for his sister. She’s become an antique dealer and spent a good portion of her professional life tracking down the deadly mirror so that she can destroy it.
When she picks Tim up from the asylum, she asks his help to authenticate on camera the malevolent spirit within the mirror and then be a witness to its destruction. Tim reluctantly agrees, and they go to their old house to confront the mirror and the spirit lurking inside it. Kaylie details the mirror’s crimes for the audience, and while each story is interesting, 45 deaths over 400 years isn’t really a good track record for a killer mirror. It’s barely one a decade. Though maybe I need to give the Lasser Glass more credit, it is a stationary object after all and can’t chase people around with implements of killing.
Kaylie thinks she’s got the mirror’s spirit trapped with her precautions, but the thing inside the Lasser Glass didn’t survive by being easily tricked, and it won’t go down without a fight.
Oculus starts out with two distinct timelines. The first is the present day, where they’re trying to destroy the mirror. The other is in the past. It details Tim and Kaylie’s first encounter with the mirror. Eventually though, the timelines merge until the neither the audience nor the characters know what’s real and what’s just a fabrication of the mirror.
While this produces some cool scenes, it also gives Oculus leeway for the mirror to pull bizarre tricks without the audience being able to call anything bullshit. This is both good and bad, because if the mirror can literally do anything it likes without limits, then it could’ve killed Tim and Kaylie the minute it got enough power to do so and the rest of the movie could just be a mindfuck.
It also leaves the audience without an anchor to reality, so everything bad that happens actually has less emotional impact because it could be revealed a few seconds later to be the mirror’s trickery at work. There are a few times where the audience is left to decide if what happened was real or not with no hint from the film. The problem with this is that by the time these scenes appear, reality has been so undermined that there’s no real way to definitively decide one way or the other, which is unsatisfyingly vague for a horror movie.
We also end up seeing much more of the mirror’s reality bending powers than we do the malevolent inhabitant. Since Kaylie’s goal was to draw the being out of the mirror and destroy it, I felt this was a real weakness in the film.
Unless, of course, you believe that both Kaylie and Tim were so traumatized by what happened to their family that they blamed the mirror and are actually just deluded about there being anything inside it. This theory works fine in the beginning, but as the Lasser Glass grows in power and does things like kill plants that were perfectly healthy in earlier scenes, it becomes harder to believe. By the end, anyone that can still somehow feel there were no supernatural elements to what happened in the house looks like the crazy person. I don’t think Oculus is presenting the audience with an either or situation. The question isn’t “Are Tim and Kaylie crazy” it’s “How do you destroy an evil mirror without succumbing to its power?”
The earlier scenes, where the Lasser Glass is just growing into its power are the most effective, because the audience still has a grasp on reality. The best example of this is partially in the trailer. It’s where Kaylie’s eating an apple and replacing lightbulbs. She bites into what she thinks is an apple, but instead she crunches down on a lightbulb. But did she really? The way the rest of that scene plays out is pure genius, but you’ll have to see the movie to know how it goes. I ended up being surprised by what happened, and given how many horror/thriller films I’ve seen, that’s really hard to do.
The time bending gets out of hand as the mirror grows stronger, and things get weirder but less fascinating as the plot unravels. It’s like they couldn’t decide how to end the movie, so they just did a bunch of confusing time shifts and then tried to shock the audience by doing the most obvious thing and trying to disguise it as a plot twist.
While the ending left something to be desired, the ride Oculus takes the audience on is well worth it. There’s a lot of body-horror and just plain icky moments that are done realistically enough that they made me cringe or go “ow, jesus, that’s gotta hurt!” The apple/lightbulb biting scene is one of them, but there are others involving fingernails, C-section scars, plates or other things . . .
Oculus is definitely worth seeing. All the main actors put in excellent performances, with the child and adult actors for both Kaylie and Tim being the best in the film. The body horror is realistic and grotesque.
It seems like maybe the ending was setting up for a sequel. Since Oculus was third in the Box Office for its opening week, behind Captain America and Rio 2, and beating out Draft Day, it seems likely we’ll see another installment. One thing I’d definitely want to see in a sequel is a lot more of the inhabitant of The Lasser Glass and not just its trickery.
Oculus is in theaters now.