Running time: 105 minutes
Starring: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Katee Sackhoff, Rory Cochrane
Who to see it with: Psychological horror fans
Last year, The Conjuring spooked audiences by relying on suspense and creepiness rather than cheap jump scares. Oculus works similarly, with additional doses of psychological horror and sibling drama. In Oculus, the Russell family suffers a tragedy that leaves half of them dead and sends then ten-year old Tim (Brenton Thwaites) to a mental hospital. The police do not buy his claim that the deaths are the fault of the family's haunted antique mirror. When he is released eleven years later, he is now convinced that his memories are delusional, but his older sister Kaylie (Karen Gillan) has reacquired the mirror and will not rest until she can prove its role in her family's shattering.
Oculus stands out from many recent horror films with its lack of a traditional monster. There are few truly scary moments; the creative horror premise often feels like a foundation for a creepy supernatural drama. The mirror's vaguely explained "powers" leave Tim and Kaylie struggling to figure out if what they are hearing and seeing is real rather than running from creatures. This story is intermingled with flashbacks to their youth detailing what happened when eleven years before. These looks at the past help the story's pacing, giving a break from the siblings' ordeal while providing important background information.
Oculus gets a lot of mileage out of a small cast. Much of the film features only Tim and Kaylie, with the occasional appearance of their parents (Katee Sackhoff, Rory Cochrane) in the flashbacks. I really liked Kaylie. She seems a little smarter and more prepared than the average horror heroine and has a likable intensity. Unfortunately, the story loses some interest toward its end when it shifts away from the first half's question of, "Is the mirror actually haunted?" and the conflict between disbelieving Tim and possibly bonkers Kaylie. And it takes a little too long for the siblings to realize that they may be in over their heads, especially considering Kaylie's extensive research into the mirror's alleged victims. Oculus is not scary, but its focus on psychological horrors and their effects on a family is refreshing and often creepy.