Oculus tells the story of a woman trying to exonerate her brother, who was convicted of murder, by proving that his crime was committed by a supernatural phenomenon.
Avoiding the tried and tested quiet-quiet-quiet-BANG dynamic that has been the focus of so many mainstream horrors recently, Mike Flanagan’s feature-length expansion of his festival-favourite short makes the brave decision to rely on a twisty script rather than things that go bang in the night to deliver its creepy thrills.
Emerging from a decade of incarceration in a mental institution, Tim (Brenton Thwaites) is reunited with sister Kaylie (Karen Gillan) when he is deemed to be sane and safe after a horrific episode in their childhood.
Tim believes himself to be cured; Kaylie, on the other hand, has grown up believing that her brother was compelled to violence by a supernaturally malevolent force.
Before they can catch up Kaylie insists that they address some unfinished business involving a haunted mirror, which she claims caused the violent deaths of their parents.
When their parents were murdered the siblings formed a pact to destroy the mirror. But you can’t just take a golf club to this thing: it protects itself with insidious powers of suggestion, can make you hallucinate entire alternate realities, and appears to eat dogs. Or at least makes them vanish.
Initially sceptical, Tim agrees to play along with Kaylie’s plans to exorcise the “Lasser Glass” with the aid of video cameras, heat sensors and a massive blade weighted and ready to drop from the ceiling in case they need backup.
The hallucinatory trickery of the glass pays off with one especially unnerving scene, when Kaylie isn’t sure if she’s just crunched down on an apple or the light bulb sitting next to it.
You can appreciate what a crafty job Flanagan’s doing engineering a gradual convergence of past and present, so that the parents (Katee Sackhoff and Rory Cochrane) intrude as ghostly aggressors, and history starts to repeat itself.
Solidly played by the likeable leads, it bodes well for Gillan’s post-Doctor Who career, this unpretentiously efficient horror handles its dual-narrative past/present intercuts with ease and keeps a couple of nasty tricks up its sleeve right up until the bitter end.
The verdict? Oculus is an incredibly smart supernatural thriller that unleashes an uncomfortable amount of fear. It isn’t exactly horrifying but it does mess with your mind.
By Ruth Walker