Film review: Oculus (15, 103 min)
Friday the 13th – time to stay at home
Friday the 13th of June will be exceedingly unlucky for cinemagoers who hand over hard-earned cash in exchange for ghoulish thrills and spills in Oculus.
Writer-director Mike Flanagan’s ham-fisted take on a haunted house creaks with predictability, and jump-out-of-your-seat scares are perilously thin on the ground.
The script, co-written by Jeff Howard, unfolds in parallel timelines set 11 years apart and the boundary between fantasy and reality becomes so blurred that it’s impossible to make sense of the on-screen madness until the end credits roll. That said, it’s abundantly clear where Flanagan’s lumbering picture is headed and which two-dimensional characters must be slain, sparing them and us from swathes of risible dialogue that might convince some viewers they are watching a comedy. Scottish actress Karen Gillan, who is best known for her time-travelling exploits alongside Matt Smith in Doctor Who, sports a solid American accent as the film’s terrified heroine.
She draws upon a repertoire of wide-eyed stares and pitiful whimpers as her protagonist battles valiantly against the ultimate manifestation of evil: an antique mirror. Oculus opens with 13-year-old Kaylie (Annalise Basso) and her 10-year-old brother Tim (Garrett Ryan) cowering in a bedroom.
They open the door and see their father Alan (Rory Cochrane) prowling in a homicidal daze, having just shot his wife Marie (Katee Sackhoff).
Sensing an opportunity to escape, the youngsters run for the front door...
In the present-day, 21-year-old Tim (now played by Brenton Thwaites) is released from St Aidan’s Mental Facility, having come to terms with his horrific childhood.
“It’s important you connect with your sister,” Dr Graham (Miguel Sandoval) tells Tim. “It’s more important you protect your recovery.”
Tim is released into the care of sibling Kaylie (now played by Gillan), who works in an auction house.
She is convinced that a mirror drove their old man to murder and she has acquired the supposedly possessed looking glass with the intention of smashing it to smithereens at their childhood home.
Kaylie intends to document the destruction on video cameras placed around the homestead. “We were kids! We made up a sick story to hide the fact our father was a killer!” rages Tim, who is reluctant to delve into fractured memories of the past.
Oculus doesn’t play fair, creating nightmarish dreams within dreams within dreams that test our resolve.
Pacing is sluggish and from the moment the siblings venture back into the house that brought them anguish, we know one or both of them are certain to leave in a coroner’s bag.
Gillan and Thwaites don’t have sufficient screen time to forge credible on-screen chemistry so it’s hard to invest our emotions in their survival.
A blood-soaked finale intentionally leaves the door ajar for a sequel, which should never see the light of day.
Horror/Thriller. Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Katee Sackhoff, Rory Cochrane, Annalise Basso, Garrett Ryan, James Lafferty, Miguel Sandoval. Director: Mike Flanagan.