Tuesday, April 29, 2014

OCULUS (2013) movie review

Oculus (2013) d. Mike Flanagan (USA)

Following a long stint in a mental institution, Tim (Brenton Thwaites) meets up with his art dealer sister Kaylie (Karen Gillan) to begin his life anew. However, his sibling has no intention of forgetting their past, and the dark forces that shattered their childhood. Seems that the mirror acquired by their father (Rory Cochrane) possesses the ability to warp visual observations and entrap minds, leading to some very twisted and disturbing consequences for the kids and their mother (Katee Sackhoff). Returning to their childhood home and having taken elaborate observational precautions, Kaylie hopes to prove that Tim’s criminal acts – the very ones that ended him up in the booby hatch – were not the results of faulty mental wiring, but rather the influence of the malignant artifact.

Hey, I’ll come clean: prior to looking it up for this review, I wasn’t entirely sure of what an “oculus” really was. Literally “eye” in Latin, it’s a word with a marvelously oogey, sinister sound, one that will be henceforth synonymous with writer/director Flanagan’s smash follow-up to his acclaimed feature debut, Absentia (another Latin phrase meaning “absence”).

If all this high-minded vocabulary hasn’t tipped you off already, the young New England native isn’t shy about delivering smart scares in place of lowbrow gross-outs, and though his nefarious looking glass ultimately proves to be perhaps too omnipotent (come the final credits we realize that the power struggle we’ve been watching is akin to a Pete Sampras vs. Stephen Hawking tennis match), it doesn’t diminish the achievement of what has gone before.

Flanagan and co-writer Jeff Howard keep us on the edge of our proverbial seats, dancing back and forth between timelines and character viewpoints, unveiling some undeniably visceral PG-13 shocks while the assembled actors render uniformly grounded performances. Though the elder cast members are likely familiar to television viewers (Cochrane – CSI Miami, Sackoff – Battlestar Galactica, Gillan – Doctor Who, Thwaites – Home and Away), it is Annalise Basso who makes the strongest impression as the younger version of Gillan's character, courage and terror flickering in constant conflict across her angelic features.

With steadily ratcheting tension, well-cultivated shocks and thrills, and an overwhelming sense of dread and helplessness in the face of overwhelming evil, Flanagan delivers the first great mainstream genre flick of 2014 and the best haunted reflector movie since Mirror Mirror.

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