Friday, April 11, 2014

Oculus Reviewed

The horror machine seems to be taped to the "on" setting these last few years with no signs of stopping any time soon! (and for that, we say, yay) Food of choice for spookhounds seems to be heaving helpings of ghostly creeps and a steady stream of demonic possessions, but one sub-genre has also been enjoying a steady stream of titles dedicated to its preservation while seemingly keeping under the radar...and that is the realm of the CURSED OBJECT!! Of course, all this will change when James Wan tells the tale of Annabelle, the cursed doll that will have you sleeping with the lights on for months after viewing..and every studio begins the hunt for a cursed something-or-other movie. I, personally, would love to see cursed housewares. Sure, "Maximum Overdrive" came close, but I feel they really didn't pull the trigger there. Demonic housewares is where it's at, mark my words. Now comes Oculus; a mean spirited tale of a mirror with a taste for chaos...and plants..and dogs...and Scifi starlets. Can Amy Pond and Starbuck prevail against an unseen horror that would bring their minds to the very edge of sanity? Let's discuss.

Kaylie (Karen Gillan) and Tim (Brenton Thwaites) had a rough upbringing. Their parents went over the deep end and did some things that...well..parents can't take back. At the end of that grizzly evening, Tim was carted off to the nut house and Kaylie was left alone in the world with only her theories on the supernatural aspects of those happenings to mull over for years, quickly evolving into a thirst for VENGEANCE! ..And this would be a slow, patient vengeance...the kind you plan for decades and keep up a normal front but whenever someone mentions the object of your ire, your eye begins to twitch. When Tim is allowed to leave the sanitarium, seemingly cured, he is promptly scooped up by Kaylie and brought right back to the object that made the world believe he had gone round the bend in the first place. Kaylie has the whole house rigged with cameras, heat sensors, lights and backups for nearly everything. She's determined to prove neither of them is insane with video proof of the sinister mirror at work, all counting down to the object's destruction.

This pseudo-smart little tale unfolds in two eras. We watch Kaylie enact her plans for exposing the mirror's evil intent while we learn, through flashbacks and hallucinations, what occurred on that bloody night so many years ago. Of course, I did say pseudo-smart. While the movie kicks off with a delightfully driven (read borderline nutcase) Kaylie, who seems to have thought of every way to thwart the mirror's murderous mind-bending, the plot sort of meanders soon after. If you enjoy watching a couple of attractive people get tricked into doing odd things and reliving the horrors of their childhood, then I suppose you'll be happy enough. For a die hard horror fan, those horrors aren't very cringe worthy and the tone, not stark enough or even cryptically quiet enough to set up decent jump scares. As the film slides along, the manic nature of Kaylie is not fully capitalized on and the story just seems to run in circles as the siblings yell at each other and constantly do things to put themselves in jeopardy, contrary to all Kaylie's pre-arranged countermeasures and planning. Those initial smart moments unravel as the mirror has it's way with our "heroes" their minds..and I awaited an ending that might redeem the whole experience. Some moment of bleak silence where the characters think they might actually win, only to have some insanely awesome looking monster crawl out from the mirror, sending an entire theater of screaming adults fleeing for their lives. Alas, this was not the finale we are given and what we are left with is anticlimactic.

Oculus is certainly an odd film to pin down. I wouldn't be surprised if more than one set of hands took hold of it's shape in the making, and certainly many mouths had input. The film isn't particularly gory or fright filled, with very little to explain why it had to be rated R in the first place. Oculus is absolutely the sort of thing that would score big with a PG13 crowd, but I've been wrong on this before. Other recent films I found scareless have gone on to garner excellent box office returns, and for that I'm grateful, as every success for horror on the big screen equals success for new film makers in the near future. In this case, there is a bit more at fault. The film lacks any sort of vision in it's cinematography. The feel of the set, in both eras, is bland and doesn't lend to the tricks sent out to make the characters do each other harm. This is all happening in their minds, correct? It's a living nightmare, yes? I see none of that. The actors seem equally uninspired as one even responded to another's abrupt slap with no more than a vacant stare. As events got as bloody as they could with no more than 3 characters on the screen at any one time, I was left with nothing but boredom. With smart notions that aren't necessarily new notions and further, not capitalized to their full potential, I was left feeling I'd just seen something instantly forgettable.

If your love for power ginger Amy Pond of Doctor Who and insanely fun Kara Thrace of Battlestar Galactica runs deep, their presence alone might sell this one for you. If you are easily scared and thought The Conjuring was the most terrifying thing you've ever set your eyes on, this could be the film for you. That aside, if you are a bit jaded, looking for something refreshingly new and would be profoundly happy to be creeped out by a new film, Oculus is a pass.

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