Horror directors use many different techniques to achieve an aura of true terror in their films. Some go the “found footage” route, giving the audience the perspective of the protagonist as they’re haunted and stalked. Others use special effects to craft a creature so unique and menacing that it will haunt audiences’ dreams for weeks to come. Some filmmakers even use the blood-n-guts approach, shocking the audience with tremendous amounts of realistic carnage they’ve only read about in the news. Director and writer Mike Flanagan prefers to go a different route in his new film Oculus: making the audience question the sanity of the characters, and themselves.
We’ve all had small moments when our sanity is questioned: when you find your front door unlocked, even though you were sure you locked it; when you catch a flash of movement out of the corner of your eye, but when you turn to look, nothing’s there. Tim Russell (Brenton Thwaites) had one of those moments when he was a child, after witnessing his father (Rory Cochrane) murder his deranged mother (Katee Sackhoff). Tim then shot his father, but not before noticing a ghastly figure in the family’s antique mirror. 11 years later, Tim has convinced himself it was all a hallucination when his sister Kaylie (Karen Gillan) picks him up from a mental hospital. Unbeknownst to him, Kaylie has spent the last decade trying to prove the mirror is responsible for deaths spanning centuries, but now needs Tim’s help. The siblings’ pasts and presents will collide as they try to destroy the mirror while the cursed object toys with their minds and replays the events of that fateful night.
The film is based on a short film produced by Flanagan in 2006. His biggest project before Oculus was the 2011 indie horror film Absentia. His co-writer, Jeff Howard, has only written for student and short film projects directed by Flanagan. The film didn’t have a big budget and was produced by the relatively small Blumhouse Productions, which produced movies like Paranormal Activity, Insidious, and The Purge. However, the relative obscurity of the filmmakers and a budget that doesn’t allow for many frills has brought out the best in many a film. Oculus is being praised for its psychologically thrilling style that keeps the audience on its toes. While the first 27 minutes are spent slowly setting the scene, Flanagan spends the rest of the film toying with the reality he has created. That includes shifting from the night of the murder to the present and back again, as well as sudden supernatural surprises occurring in the blink of an eye. Oculus exploits the base psychological factors that make us scared, and that stick with us when something goes bump in the night.
Find showtimes and tickets for Oculus here.