Oculus is a breath of fresh air in a depleting horror genre that’s filled with remakes and reboots. It takes elements from many different films (some horror, some not) and moulds them into one interesting, satisfying experience. Though there are still various problems that pull the film away from becoming a cult classic, what comes from Oculus is a tale that is satisfying, creepy and well told.
The story of Oculus is quite simplistic, so simplistic in fact that it takes place in one location for most of the film. That’s not a discredit to the film at all though, as we’ve seen this work in many others before it. To keep this review clear from spoilers, I’ll just mention that it’s about a mirror, an entity that’s inside of it, and its manipulation of the soul. That’s really about all that’s needed to be said – the rest should be discovered individually. It’s a story that I thoroughly enjoyed watching unfold and one that will stick with me for some time to come. It’s also a story that feels like it’s been told many times before, but the way director and writer Mike Flanagan has crafted it pulls it away from the clichèd genre the film so happily sits in. There are many twists and turns to recover from and a solid amount of scares to experience within Oculus, each having meaning behind it unlike so many other horror films before it.
While Oculus doesn’t have an all-star cast like a blockbuster film would, the acting is actually just as good. Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites are both excellent in the lead roles, but it’s Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan who impressed me the most with convincing performances in the younger roles. They managed to convey the more frightening scenes with ease and captured a good amount of depth to each of their characters, making their struggles believable and ultimately quite relatable. Katee Sackhoff and Rory Cochrane are also quite good in their respective roles, but again, the most amount of credit must go to the two younger actors for a great performance.
Since Oculus is a horror movie, instead of talking solely about the cinematography in said movie, I think I should press on how ‘scary’ this movie actually is, and to Oculus’ credit it has some great sequences that frightened me enough to warrant a twitch or two. It manages to capture both the feeling of dread and horror quite well, making for some memorable sequences of horror and packing in some great jump scares too. It never overdoes either, which to its credit makes for a stronger impact from the films story when all is said and done. The cinematography in the film is quite basic as it takes place in basically one location – that being a two story house. Cinematographer Michael Fimognari does a great job in encapsulating a Paranormal Activity-esque feel to the house when things ultimately go down, but on the other side of the spectrum manages to make it feel welcoming and warm when the movie starts off. It’s a great contrast to see, and the use of strong, prominent lighting throughout the films duration was a refreshing change to the darkness seen in most other horror/paranormal movies these days.
The score (by The Newton Brothers) in Oculus is quite good, it doesn’t branch onto anything too brilliant but it manages to capture the feeling of horror and drama in each respective sequence quite well. It isn’t an entire mood-shifter like you’d expect from something like Lord of The Rings or X-Men, but it’s a horror movie and you shouldn’t be expecting that anyway.
The visual effects in the movie are also quite well done, but again nothing too exceptional in this day and age. I did really enjoy the ‘ghost’ in the film though as she was actually quite terrifying to see and had a great presence on screen. Other than that though, it’s very standard.
There aren’t many problems with Oculus as a whole. I don’t think I’d ever class it as an amazing film, but it’s actually quite a good horror film. The fact that its story is enjoyable, terrifying and genuinely intriguing to watch play out made for some entertaining viewing and I loved the scares it presented – but as a film it’s quite linear and doesn’t have a lot of room to move when it comes down to it. The premise of the story is incredibly basic and has been done (in essence) many times before, so the story doesn’t feel entirely new and fresh – but that’s just a trope with horror these days anyway. I also believe that the second storyline in the film was much stronger than the first, and while they are both within the same subject matter I became tired of watching Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites as I became much more attached to their younger counterparts and the story they had to tell instead – which was kind of a misfire story-wise.
Overall though, Oculus is a great horror film that I’d recommend to anyone that enjoys diving in to the genre. It’s not going to blow your mind, but that’s basically how horror is these days. I really enjoyed the fact that the film kept the jump scares at bay and focused on the dread factor a lot more, as that gave the story a chance to play out rather than feel forced like so many horror movies before it. The acting is good, the score is good and the cinematography is well done – making Oculus a solid viewing experience for those that want to indulge in the paranormal side of things once more.