Oculus Creepy, Confusing Terror

Sarada Symonds, Editor-in-Chief

Mike Flanagan’s horror film Oculus debuted in theaters on April 11, providing an original, complex plot. However, the film’s complexity often takes away from the suspense, making the film less frightening overall.

The most enjoyable part of Oculus is the unique plot, which is based on a short film Flanagan directed earlier in his career. When I was younger, I enjoyed horror movies like The Ring and The Shining for their unique story lines and chilling themes. More recently, I found horror films like The Conjuring just as fun.

The film alternates between the past and present, switching between scenes from the childhood of Kaylie (Karen Gillan) and Tim Russell (Brenton Thwaites) and the modern day, where Tim has been released from a psychiatric hospital. In the early 2000s, Kaylie and Tim’s parents, Marie and Alan, had moved them to a new house. Alan, a software developer who worked from home, bought a large, antique mirror to decorate his office, but it soon begins to behave strangely.

Often voices are heard from the room, and the siblings see strange people in the office. More and more details are revealed, but it’s clear from the beginning that the mirror will eventually drive Marie and Alan insane, leaving Kaylie and Tim as orphans.

Several years later, Kaylie researches the mirror’s origin and its gruesome history, determined to prove that her parents were actually possessed by something and not just partners in an unhappy marriage. Tim joins her as she sets up cameras, thermometers, and a fail safe to destroy the mirror in case anything goes wrong. However, the mirror soon starts to play games with them, causing realistic hallucinations of their childhood and deaths of loved ones.

I found the psychological horror aspect of the film to be chilling. While the movie has some moments that made me “jump,” it is the absence of a solid reality that creates the sense of dread, like an inescapable nightmare. While in classic horror movies, the characters often seem idiotic and naive (“let’s split up, gang”),  this is not the case in Oculus. The characters often make sensible decisions, such as going to a neighbor for help or just trying to leave, but are unable to. Furthermore, the film does not rely on gore or violence to frighten, but rather the feel of unreality that permeates the film.

While I enjoyed the plot, I also found the constant flashbacks to take away from the air of suspense. The film parallels past and present, switching between current events and memories from the Russell siblings’ past, making the it confusing and difficult to follow.

Despite this shortfall, I found Oculus to be an eerie, frightening ghost story that fans of horror films will enjoy. While it is not as memorable as classic psychological horror films like The Shining  or The Haunting, it provides an interesting take on old horror movie favorites and enough chilling moments to satisfy scary movie fans.