It sees what it wants you to see. No other sentence hits the very core of Mike Flanagan’s Oculus quite like that one. Flanagan reminds us just how powerful a director’s vision is as he does exactly that—shows us only what he want’s us to see—as he spins a wicked tale that haunts and tricks in equal measure. Smartly written and extremely well executed, Oculus is a powerful horror film that haunts, shocks and delivers a crazy narrative that twists and turns until its final beat.
Oculus plays like a horror film of the slow-burn variety but with the tension of some of the hardest-hitting genre films horror has to offer. It takes its time from beginning to end in order to tell its mind-bending story as it uniquely blends the past with the present in such a way that it almost feels like you’re watching two different horror movies that are on the same path of destruction. Pulling off a story like this without it getting tangled into an incomprehensible mess takes some serious skill and the editors deserve some kind of award for what they achieved. I can’t imagine what it was like to piece this film together because while it bounces back and forth between the past and present, what’s real and not real, they still managed to tell a terrifying story that never once gets lost in itself.
It’s truly a different kind of horror movie experience as you watch the past and present collide in such a way that, to put it simply—was insanely cool. And despite the fact that you know exactly how the story of the past pans out, the film is wrapped so tightly in tension that some of the film’s most terrifying notes come straight from the story you already know. Once it bounces back to the present, however, you’re in for an entirely different ride because now you have no idea as to what’s actually real and what isn’t. The power a director has over the audience is something people often forget about because the directors don’t always take advantage of that privilege and it’s a shame, really. It’s nice to see a director like Flanagan steer his film with such confidence because the final result was well worth the ride.
The tension Oculus creates is phenomenal as it doesn’t resort to very many gimmicks other than a few jump-scares that more often than not hit the mark seamlessly. And while it may not offer anything that breaks the boundaries a far as scares go, what you will see is an honest, straight forward horror flick that gets in, messes with your head, and gets out leaving your jaw on the floor. And in its strength lies a powerful cast that roll with the punches delivering a genuine performance that never feels forced. However, the standouts for me were the young actors (Annalise Basso & Garrett Ryan) playing the kid versions of the film’s main characters. They really dialed in on some great performances, capturing the sheer terror of watching their parents go down a dark, wicked hole.
Oculus is certainly one of the surprise horror films of the year because they turned a horror movie cliche (a mirror) into something unique and original without ever resorting to the same old tired banalities we’ve seen a dozen times before. Flanagan is a name we’re going to be seeing a lot of and the horror genre is better off because of it. He’s not afraid to take ahold of his film and tell it the way he wants to by infusing it with legitimate scares from beginning to end. It’s a mind-bending shocker that may not have reinvented the wheel but it definitely spins in a way that the genre hasn’t seen in quite some time, if ever.