Ricky's Film Reviews

Bringing you honest reviews of recent releases

Oculus

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Doors open and a young woman walks with quick pace down a red carpeted hallway.
Her ponytail swings from side to side as she quickly enters an auction room. The next item is now on display – it is a mirror. The woman stares at it with intent. Because she plans to destroy it – before it destroys her.
And many other people after.

This isn’t just a mirror.
It’s something else…

 

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Cast

Karen Gillan – Kaylie Russell

Annalise Basso – Young Kaylie

Brenton Thwaites – Tim Russell

Garrett Ryan – Young Tim

Katee Sackhoff – Marie Russell

Rory Cochrane – Alan Russell

James Lafferty – Michael Dumont

Miguel Sandoval – Dr. Shawn Graham

 

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Double Trouble

Throughout the movie viewers get to see the story from two seperate timelines; the brother and sister pair as young children, and their adult selves.
First off:

Karen Gillan – I was dubious, I have to say. Would she manage to break out of Amy Pond and into Hollywood? It is her first major movie complete with genuine American accent, and I can honestly say she was not bad at all. There is something very different about Karen these days; I can’t quite pinpoint it but she had a whole different aura about her as I watched her in this. She practically carried Oculus, and her acting was fantastic. Tense, panicky moments and a hell of a lot of crying were delivered in ways which totally surpassed her Doctor Who days.
As she strutted down a hallway – her back to the camera – in her very first scene, I sat there thinking, “oh God – what’s she going to be like? Is she going to deliver?”. And I can honestly say she did, faultlessly. Again, there was a different air about her this time..

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The kids are to be applauded. Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan were consistently effective throughout the movie, their honest style of acting totally believable.
Some child actors are bloody awful – their real-life innocence making it difficult for them to lie (act). These two however, were splendid – the emotion they brought to the screen was just as effective as the adult stars, if not better. As the movie time jumps from one situation to another, the little’uns take the stage just as much as the adults; this ensures a nice variation runs throughout – and lucky too, given the cast talent.
Garrett is a sweet little thing, whose performance is all in the eyes – his puppy-dog features are perfect for that whole ‘cute-to-horrified’ expression which he gives a lot of. Annalise on the other hand, smashes her way past him by miles. The girl’s acting ability is superb – tears streaming from her often terrified face, screaming at her father, etc.
Normally I find child actors cheesy, not good enough for the genre of movie, but this girl creates a fantastically tense atmosphere that most child actors don’t – the pair were a great choice of casting.

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Forbidden Fruit

One scene sees Kaylie changing the bulb in a lamp – an uneventful exercise that you wouldn’t think twice about as you do it. But the everyday task becomes a fucking nightmare when Kayleigh – eating an apple as she changes the bulb – walks away and takes a bite of the fruit she is holding.
..which is now a lightbulb.

SMASH.

She pulls the bulb away from her mouth as blood pours from her lips. She reaches into her mouth and grabs the massive shard of glass embedded in the roof of her mouth.. pulls it out, and stares at it crazily. Blood everywhere.
This scene literally had me covering my mouth in shock. I can’t explain what I felt, but the scenario had me reeling. It was disgusting, scary, shocking.

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A scene near the beginning of the movie had me smiling as I sat biting my nails..
After securing the mirror to take home, Kaylie stands in a warehouse basement looking into the glass. Something appears behind her – when she turns, there are three people standing still, a sheet thrown over each one.
She walks very slowly towards them and upon reaching the ‘people’, yanks the sheets off their heads one by one..

I won’t spoil this one for you, so I refuse to reveal who (or what) is underneath the sheets, but I will say I bloody loved this scene. I’ve seen scarier in horror movies, but this was different – the tension Karen creates as she nervously approaches and then exposes the forms in front of her was brilliant. I sat biting my nails, smiling.
And don’t get me started on the ‘fingernail’ scene..

BANG – right there – that’s what you want a movie to do; to evoke a reaction, a gut feeling from the audience. Have them expect, anticipate, dread, surprise them.
Oculus managed to do this, which gets points from me.

 

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Expectant Explosion

When I first saw the poster for Oculus and noticed the line “from the producer of Paranormal Activity and Insidious”, I felt a rush of excitement. I bloody loved these movies – fresh, original and had me jumping all over the place. They made great cinema. Oculus however, was something else.
Although there were one or two tension-twisting scenes, this movie was absolutely nowhere near as jumpy or scary as I expected it to be. I was slightly deflated about this, because I assumed with the kind of story it involved, it would be a rocky ride of scary moments.
It was not.

Oculus is more of a psychological thriller; the time-jumping twisted path it follows is proper mind-bending. For example, adult Kaylie walks toward the living room door – child Kaylie exits. There is no time for pretty transition between scenes, quite literally the story pounces from one version of the characters to the other.
Adult Kaylie stands staring at the mirror – child Kaylie then walks away – adult Kaylie exits the room – young Tim meets her in the hallway – they both re-enter the room as young Tim and Kaylie.. WHAT THE HELL, MAN?!
At one point I was just plain confused. But I assume this was the point of the movie overall, director Mike Flanagan wanted this to be a complete head-fuck.

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I suppose Oculus scores points for bringing something different. I was geared up for a scary shocker – but it delivered sinister elements which differed vastly to those of Insidious and the like. Make sure you keep your eyes on the screen (I did constantly anyway, wanting something to happen) at all times because you don’t want to lose track of what’s going on – it all happens that quickly.

 

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Goosebumps

I’m talking about the series of books, not the temporary skin condition.
Oculus reminded me so much of Goosebumps books from years ago. I used to read them religiously, and in fact still have the entire collection.
It was the concept which reminded me of the R.L. Stine series; the story of an everyday object you wouldn’t think twice twice about becoming the stuff of nightmares.
Stories from the Goosebumps range saw insects getting their own back (Go Eat Worms), a cuckoo clock sending a child into a time warp (The Cuckoo Clock Of Doom), death by camera (Say Cheese And Die), and even – yes – a spooky mirror which causes its victims to vanish into thin air (Let’s Get Invisible).

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Oculus fit perfectly into this whole ‘haunted object’ theme by taking an everyday item people use, surrounding it with a chilling atmopshere and producing a mind-bending movie. It’s not a man wielding a knife, a housewife pouring poison into a soup she’s making, a bomb with a digital display counting down – it’s not anything obvious. It’s something hidden – inside something you’re already comfortable with.

 

 

Open-Mouthed

You can tell a movie is made by the people who did Insidious and Paranormal Activity when open-mouthed people appear.
I don’t know what it is about this genre of film, but the producer / director always insists on having a ghostly figure popping up whose mouth seems so cavernous that it all but swallows their head. A handful of (yes – you guessed it!) open-mouthed people appear toward the end of Oculus. And it was at this point I thought, “yep – there we go, this is definitely the same producer”. It just kind of – sealed the deal.

If you’ve ever seen the movie 1408 and enjoyed it, I have no doubt you’ll enjoy Oculus. Like 1408, it is a mind-bending “WTF” of a movie which takes pleasure in playing with the viewer’s mind at the same time as entertaining.

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What Went Wrong

Like many other horror flicks, naivety rules the air and the ‘obvious’ elements are lacking somewhat. For example, the terrifying action which takes place in the house with Kaylie and Tim is witnessed by no one else.
Kaylie makes a point of documenting what goes on (she rigs up cameras, computers, etc. in the same room as the mirror) but ultimately keeps the whole experiment strictly between her and her brother.
Why? If you wanted others to truly notice and understand what was going on, would you not invite people to the house to be witness?

I was miffed at the fact it took a singular young woman to put two and two together and realise the exact same mirror was the only object present at the murders of various people around the world – yet authorities such as Police, investigators and forensics were none the wiser.

Lastly, the ending – was a letdown.

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Overall, Oculus was a good little watch – but was nowhere near as scary as I hoped it would be. This was actually a psychological piece of cinema which gets you thinking, rather than being scared.
Praise for the child actors who displayed their characters fantastically, and for Karen Gillan who managed to break into Hollywood nicely and give us something different which was bursting with boldness and dynamic.
So this movie won’t have you screaming, but it will have you trying to work things out. Just make sure you keep watching, or you may lose track.

 

6/10

 

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This entry was posted on June 14, 2014 by .
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