Director: Mike Flanagan
Writers: Mike Flanagan, Jeff Howard
Actors: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Katie Sackhoff
“Hello again! You must be hungry.”
Surely the golden rule of good horror is to never give the audience too close a look at the monster. Let their own puny imaginations do the work for you, let them squirm at the thought of what might be causing the thuds, possessions, and the obligatory slamming of doors. And if you really must show it, perhaps in the false hope that your design department has created an iconic spook, then surely save the big reveal (and the inevitable disappointment) until the very end.
Oculus flies boldly in the face of such basic horror technique and decides to show its ghoul early on, offering plenty of long and revealing shots under generous lighting, and revealing how crap it is. And just in case people were busy looking at their mobile phones the first time, the apparition pops up again every 10 minutes or so until the thing is practically a familiar member of the family it is trying to terrorise.
Such familiarity is a fatal mistake, not least for the fact the monster is painfully ordinary and not in the least bit scary.
A derivative of so many of the recent paranormal investigation craze, Oculus goes through the genre tropes by the numbers: a big doll house set, all the standard ghost tracking equipment, diary logs, a back story delivered with newspaper cuttings. Though offering little in the way of originality it does have one twist up its sleeve which holds some potential – at least on paper.
You see, Oculus’s resident demonic presence, made tangible by the classic spooky old mirror cliché, is capable of bending its victims perceptions of reality and distorting their memories. Though strangely selective in use of this ability the mirror can ensure its survival and prevent its victims from escaping. Handled with a little more restraint this could have led to some clever twists and red herrings but instead we are treated to the same bluff over and over again. Even worse the ‘twist’ ending is set up in the first ten minutes almost with a wink to the camera.
Compounding this missed opportunity the idea is needlessly mixed into a series of extremely vivid flashbacks as the siblings try to unravel the truth of their first encounter with the mirror. Understanding whether these are visual interpretations of the characters memories or actual delusions conjured up by the demon is presumably meant to be a clever mind bending puzzle but the whole thing quickly becomes confusing to the point of distraction.
Poor judgement is a problem which runs throughout the directing and editing of Oculus which is way too heavy handed and lacking any the subtleties necessary for building tension, jumps, and genuine creepiness. With no real scares on offer it is surprising to see the gore is significantly toned down; perhaps a good indication as to the easily pleased target audience this brainless clone is aimed at. Released in the same year, The Conjuring really did this shtick so much better on every level.