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Thursday, April 24, 2014 12:01 am

Oculus a clever exercise in low-budget horror

 

Following the maxim, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Blumhouse Productions continues to adhere to the formula that’s made it one of the fastest growing, small production arms in Hollywood. Sticking to budgets of $5 million or less, offering profit participation to lure the occasional name actor and aggressively promoting their modest horror films, the powers that be at this firm have had more hits than misses. Paranormal Activity, Insidious and The Purge have been the company’s biggest successes and hopefully Mike Flanagan’s Oculus will find similar success at the box office.

Based on a short film the director made in 2006, the story’s setting is such that it could be rendered as a tautly produced stage play. The object the action revolves around is a 300-year-old mirror that seems to have brought a grisly end to all who’ve owned it. Kaylie (Karen Gillan) contends that her parent’s deaths were the result of a supernatural force that lives within the looking glass, a crime that her brother Tim (Brenton Thwaites) was blamed for. Having just been released from a mental institute after a 10-year stay, the young man just wants to go on with his life. However, Kaylie’s intent is on proving her theory correct and destroying the mirror, exonerating her brother along the way.

The bulk of the film takes place at the house where the murders occurred. Kaylie has set up an elaborate battery of video cameras to record her process of destroying this object. An interesting tension develops between the siblings. Tim is skeptical of his sister’s theory and the back-and-forth they engage in effectively lays out what this object may be capable of and how they’re to combat it. While Flanagan effectively creates an eerie atmosphere, Gillan carries most of the water where establishing a sense of dread is concerned. The actress, in a prolonged scene, is required to provide the viewer with the history of the mirror, the sort of long piece of exposition performers dread, yet her varied delivery and sense of conviction do more to establish the threat this object holds than any special effects or camera trickery could.

The cleverest aspect in the script by Jeff Howard and Flanagan is that the mirror causes those in proximity to it to lose all sense of time and skews their sense of reality. This allows the filmmaker to seamlessly fold together scenes showing the murders of the siblings’ parents with their efforts destroy the mirror. Soon, Kaylie, Tim and by extension us, are unable to distinguish what’s happening in the present or the past and the confusion results in an inspired, clever conclusion that will have the astute viewer reflecting on the symmetrical construction of the film and the inescapable tragic loop the doomed brother and sister are trapped in.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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