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OCULUS (review)

oculus_ver3OCULUS
Written by Mike Flanagan and Jeff Howard
Directed by Mike Flanagan
Starring Brenton Thwaites, Karen Gillan

Kaylie: Hello again; you must be hungry.

A light bulb, an apple, and a mirror – these are only some of the items that you will never look at the same way after seeing Mike Flanagan’s spine-tingling new flick, OCULUS.

On his 21st birthday, Tim Russell (Brenton Thwaites) is finally being released from a mental institution. His older sister, Kaylie (Doctor Who’s Karen Gillan), is there to pick him up, but instead of bringing a birthday/welcome home gift, Kaylie has something a little different planned. After years of tracking and planning, she has finally gotten her hands on a haunted mirror which she holds responsible for the deaths of their parents, and she wants her brother to help her destroy it.

After years of counselling, Tim has finally moved past the horrific events of their childhood, but his sister certainly not. Kaylie has created an elaborate setup to prove to the world that the mirror is evil and is responsible for over forty-five deaths. Kaylie’s elaborate plan features cameras, computers, thermometers, plants, timers, and a cute little dog named “dog”. To the audience, the whole thing sounds a little ridiculous. A haunted mirror? Yeah, right. Luckily, Tim is there as the skeptic, pointing out all the holes in Kaylie’s theory, to which she obviously has snappy comebacks for. As the night proceeds, we learn that Kaylie clearly knows what she is talking about and that the mirror may once again endanger our heroes’ lives.

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While we watch Kaylie and Tim try to destroy this mirror,  the story of the mirror’s attack on their childhood is seamlessly edited into the fold. Years earlier, in the same house, we have a young Kaylie and Tim living with their parents (Katee Sackhoff and Rory Cochrane) with the same mirror hanging in their father’s office. Both stories unfold at an impeccable pace, with their respective climaxes lining up perfectly. Kaylie and Tom never know if what they are seeing is really happening, or just an illusion created by the mirror. We as an audience are put into the exact same position, which creates a strong sense of mystery throughout the film.

Like a good horror film should, OCULUS doesn’t rely solely on jump-scares to frighten its audience. Sure there are a couple of these cheap horror tropes, but for the most part the horror lies in the film’s atmosphere, and the thrill that comes with knowing that the things on screen are not as simple as they appear. Flanagan’s film is extremely tense right from its opening shot straight through to the closing credits. You may even have to remind yourself to breathe during the final act. It may also be a while before you look into a mirror again.

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