By Todd Perkins, Staff Movie Reviewer
Horror films are meant to scare people. Whether by highlighting an underlying fear, showing gruesome gore, or simply featuring loud, startling sounds, the overall goal is to get the audience to scream and gasp throughout the film’s running time.
Director Mike Flanagan understands that in order to get the audience to be afraid of what is about to happen to the characters, he must get the viewers to care about those characters. His first mainstream film “Oculus” builds its tension by first establishing what is at stake and delving into the dark history of the protagonists in order to get its audience invested in the story before all of the unsettling events begin to take place.
The film starts out with twenty-one year old year old Tim Russell (Brenton Thwaites) being released from a mental hospital after a traumatic childhood incident years before. Once back in society, his older sister Kaylie Russell (Karen Gillan) takes him to their childhood home where she intends on confronting an evil entity contained within a centuries-old mirror that she believes was the cause of the deaths of both their parents.
Both siblings will be tested during the course of the night, and each will face their own set of horrors as they come to terms with past and present demons.
Flanagan delivers a smart script that knows how to maneuver around the same stale story structure that has become all too predictable in contemporary horror movies by placing the film’s action in both past and present story arcs. As the adult Tim and Kaylie set out to defeat the evil held within the mirror, the story shifts back to them as children experiencing the evil unfold while draining the life out of their parents.
The use of flashback has never been utilized as effectively in a horror film as it is here, and Flanagan makes use of the intersecting timelines in a way that that is surprising and satisfying toward the end.
Gillan and Thwaites deliver fine performances that manage to keep the audience suckered into the story even when things become increasingly more unrealistic, which is the main goal for actors in any horror movie. The only issue with the two leads has nothing to do with their acting but with their appearance. It seems that the only performers who are cast in these sorts of roles are the young, fit, good-looking types that look more like professional models than real people, and it would be nice to see average people in these sorts of extreme situations like in “Paranormal Activity.”
Despite some minor drawbacks, Flanagan has made a film that is tense and scary while also focusing on the characters and the repercussions of their decisions. The film takes a while to kick into gear with a slow first act, but there is no slowing down once the scares start. This may not be original, and it is far from being one of the best recent horror films, but there is a certain eerie charm present that will satisfy horror fans willing to overlook the slow start and predictable climax. While being far from perfect, this will hold over moviegoers until something better comes along.