Tuesday, October 21, 2014
OCULUS (Mike Flanagan, 2013)
Eleven years after tragedy struck the Russell family in OCULUS, siblings Kaylie (Karen Gillan) and Tim (Brenton Thwaites) reunite to obtain proof that a supernatural force upended their lives. 21-year-old Tim is newly discharged from the psychiatric facility where he’s been since the fateful night in 2002 when he killed their father (Rory Cochrane) in self-defense. He grudgingly indulges his older sister’s notion that a four-centuries-old mirror known as the Lasser Glass was responsible for their mom (Katee Sackhoff) having a psychological breakdown and their dad killing her.
Kaylie has tracked down the mirror and brings it to the old family home with the intention of killing it. She has arranged a dual camera recording set-up and seemingly fail-safe schedule to ensure tapes never run out, she and Time are nourished and hydrated, and someone on the outside checks regularly on her welfare. Kaylie’s even rigged an anchor to a timer and killswitch that will smash the glass if they are incapacitated.
Director and co-writer Mike Flanagan prizes sustaining a disturbing mood and succeeds for the most part. Small in scale, OCULUS can feel like a short film idea stretched beyond its limits, and in fact this story first took shape as a 32-minute short before being expanded by more than an hour for this incarnation. Overall, though, Flanagan builds the atmosphere through suggestion and pays off the tension releases frequently enough so that the film doesn’t drag too much.
OCULUS isn’t all about tone, though. Although the gross-out moments are few, they are memorable. Among the delightfully cringe-worthy part are using a staple remove to pry off a bandage while digging into a finger at the nail and taking a bite out of a light bulb as if it were an apple.
Freely switching between the past and the present, OCULUS tries to approximate a post-traumatic stress experience in which a high amount of uncertainty in memories exists. Toying with whether what we see is real or fantasy could get old quickly, but in this instance Flanagan disorients the viewer without feeling like he’s cheating for cheap scares.