(US - 2014)
Directed by Mike Flanagan. Written by Mike Flanagan and Jeff Howard. Cast: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Katee Sackhoff, Rory Cochrane, Annalise Basso, Garrett Ryan Ewald, Miguel Sandoval, James Lafferty, Kate Siegel. (R, 104 mins)
The concept of a haunted mirror is about as hoary a horror cliche as one can fathom, so the biggest surprise about OCULUS is what an effective little gem it is. It's light on in-your-face scares and pretty conservative with the bloodshed, but where director/co-writer Mike Flanagan (ABSENTIA) really scores is the way he establishes such an ominous, foreboding mood throughout and confidently juggles multiple timelines in a story that could quickly grow unwieldy and fly off the rails. OCULUS isn't a film that sets out to reinvent the wheel, but it does succeed in showing that it's possible to make a good, solid, old-fashioned horror film that, were it to lose some of its more modern conveniences, could easily have been an Amicus offering from the early '70s, or perhaps a restrained late '70s/early '80s Italian horror film. Flanagan wears his influences on his sleeve--there's some AMITYVILLE HORROR, THE SHINING and PRINCE OF DARKNESS in there as well--but to make something like that and get some distributor support in 2014 is a massive accomplishment in and of itself. You know at some point in the production, some or perhaps a few of the individuals among the boatload of credited producers called Flanagan in for a meeting and tried to sell him on going the found-footage route, probably showing him some cost analysis reports and some preview screening feedback cards of other recent films of that sort already forgotten. OCULUS is a film that mostly takes place in the present day and yet feels out of its own time. The characters and the performances are straight-faced and deadly serious. There's no hit songs on the soundtracks, there's no CGI gore, and there's no ironic snark. I don't want to come off like an old man telling the few remaining fans of the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY franchise to get off my lawn, but it's a sad state of affairs when something as traditional and straightforward as OCULUS manages to stick out from the crowd simply for being old-school and not fitted with any bullshit, trend-hopping bells & whistles to accommodate "the kids."
And please. No sequels. No prequels. No OCULUS: ORIGINS or some such nonsense. It's a nice, nifty little film on its own. Can't we just leave it at that?