Movie review: Shocking end to horror tale

In Oculus, Karen Gillan ropes in her on-screen brother (Brenton Thwaites, both left) to take down a mirror that supposedly houses a demonic spirit.
In Oculus, Karen Gillan ropes in her on-screen brother (Brenton Thwaites, both left) to take down a mirror that supposedly houses a demonic spirit.PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

Oculus gives audiences characters to root for and its abrupt ending is no cop-out

Review Horror

OCULUS (NC16)

103 minutes/Opens tomorrow/***

The story: Eleven years ago, siblings Tim, 10, and Kaylie, 13, were traumatised by the horrific deaths of their parents in a new house. Now, released from a psychiatric hospital, Tim (Brenton Thwaites) wants to move on, but Kaylie (Karen Gillan) is convinced that an antique mirror housing a demonic presence is responsible for what happened. With her brother's help, she plans to outwit the spirit and destroy the mirror.

Made on a paltry budget, a horror flick goes on to scare up healthy takings at the American box office.

It is a formula that Blumhouse Productions has honed to perfection with the Paranormal Activity, Insidious and Sinister franchises.

Its hot streak continues with Oculus, which it made with Intrepid Pictures and WWE Studios. The movie had a budget of US$5 million (S$6.3 million) and has earned more than US$21 million at the American box office after two weekends.

As opposed to more generic fare, there is an attempt to give the audience characters to root for and a little more complexity to the storytelling.

Director and co-writer Mike Flanagan splits the action between the two periods. Sometimes, it is clear which period it is in and, at other times, it seems to be the older characters regressing to their helpless and frightened younger selves in the present - under the influence of a mirror.

Or is it just Kaylie's overactive imagination? She goes to great lengths in her preparations to take down the mirror, from setting alarms to go off every hour to remind them to eat, to having surveillance cameras record every moment and having her fiance call to check in regularly.

There is some early tension between her and Tim as he resorts to more plausible and rational arguments to counter her unshakeable belief, backed by research, that the mirror is responsible for deaths.

Did either of them have false memories? Is Kaylie just paranoid? Is Tim fully recovered or is denial his coping mechanism?

And why can't somebody just smash the mirror already?

At least Oculus, which means eye, provides an answer to that basic loophole.

Eventually, things start to get spooky with lights going out, perceptions of reality getting warped and some icky scenes of characters causing bodily harm to themselves. At least they were not scored to an intrusive and overbearing music track.

While intercutting between past and present was a nice touch, the film drags on for too long before ending almost abruptly on a shocking note.

Crucially, the ending does not cheat and the integrity of the film is not shattered with a cop-out answer.

bchan@sph.com.sg

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