Well hey there, you drunk spoopy readers of Drunk in a Graveyard – how’s it hanging? How’s the summer treating you? Going mad with the heat and sweating your dick off? Me too! What better thing for us to do together than enter the realm of Oculus, because it’s relevant (as in it just was released for sale on bluray and DVD) or something.. I don’t know. I missed Oculus when it was in the theatres, which is a shame because unfortunately, movies of it’s type tend to work best on the big screen.
Oculus is a “psychological horror” movie directed by Mike Flanagan (who?) and it tells the tale of a family torn apart by an antique mirror. Ah antiquing.. what a hobby,
The plot (i’m using this term generously), is told in two time periods – one being the present, and the second being eleven years prior. Same family. The stories run parallel to each other and flashback vignettes clue the audience in to what is happening, and the rising action of the film occurs simultaneously. You’d think – oh two stories, two pieces of rising action – neat! Stellar! Twice the fun for one price! And that’s a big nope nope nope.. The film becomes murky very quickly. The constant flipping of backwards and forwards (which is to confuse the audience and render the viewer into questioning what is real and what isn’t) fails to be “confusing” and becomes irritating. There is not enough visual information given in the vignettes to actively progress the story in a coherent manner and it makes for frustrating viewing, which is a shame.
So the story goes that 11 years ago, the Russel family moves into their new home – Husband Alan, wife Marie, daughter Kaylie and son Tim. The house is pretty janky looking and for whatever reason, Alan buys a really big ass mirror, of which Dracula and Glen Hetrick from FaceOFF would likely be proud. That thing is gothic as fuck and looks like it should be hanging in Disney’s Haunted Mansion.
it’s a super hard sell for me to believe that some random ass family in 2001 with two hideous kids and a shitty house would spend, oh I don’t know – ten fucking grand on Dracula’s dressing table. It just doesn’t make sense, but okay, I will allow it. I also want the name of the person who designed this bitch – so if anyone knows, please tell him to contact me.. I also would like to own an insanity mirror.
So this mirror is diabolical for some reason (which is never really explained, so that’s fine), and it does suitably diabolical things like make people kill each other, causes plants to wither and other similarly wicked things. Alan, the husband, is the first to become obsessed with the mirror, falling in love with a ghostly woman named Marisol, much to his wife’s chagrin. Marie takes her husband’s affair with Casper rather hard and starts behaving like a wild animal, and ends up chained in their bedroom.
So while Mom is reneacting Quest For Fire in the bedroom, and Dad is off making whoopee with a spectre – the kids begin to realize that there isn’t any food coming into the house, and any calls they try to make to the authorities are answered by a ghostly voice telling them to speak to their father. The house does not want to let the children leave, or allow anyone to enter, and this is all orchestrated by the mirror.
The behaviour of the parents escalates to the point that Dad lets Mom out for walkies and she immediately tries to kill her children, and in the ensuing chaos, Dad shoots Mom, and Tim shoots Dad. Tim is taken to the insane asylum and for whatever reason Kaylie is hosed off and has her resume updated and it’s off to foster care where she grows up obsessed with the ghostly mirror that destroyed her family, with the promise that the children made, to reunite as adults and destroy the evil that claimed their family ringing in her ears.
So that takes us to the present – Kaylie has grown up and is a ginger fox, and like all hot girls – she is crazy as fuck and has a deep obsession with the mirror that destroyed her family. Tim is just getting out of the psych ward, and he believes that the events that took place in the family home were not supernatural in nature – rather than his father had an affair, went crazy and killed their mother, before trying to kill the children. Kaylie hitches up with her brother and she invites him to their childhood home (which she purchased at some point), where she has set up an elaborate documentation process in which she hopes to document the power of the mirror, and destroy it, once and for all. Her job at an auction house allows her access to the mirror and she brings it to the family house.
At first, Tim doesn’t buy it. He thinks his sister is deeply disturbed and rationalizes her obsession as being a manifestation of her grief and an inability to let go. He stays in part, to humor her, and listens while she details her elaborate plan to destroy the mirror. It is hung in the house, in a room with cameras pointing to it. Kaylie details to him, graphic photos and testimony of previous owners of the mirror who have either died, gone crazy, committed murder or been murdered while the mirror hung in their home or workplace. Kaylie has arranged a series of alarms to go off on the hour, so the pair can be reminded to eat and hydrate, as previous owners of the mirror have died of starvation and dehydration. She arranges for her fiancee to call on the hour to check on her (how she got a boyfriend, we shall never know), and she has arranged plants around the house, which the mirror will wither. She goes into detail about a kill switch that she has rigged, a large heavy anchor, attached to a timer that will crush the mirror when the house loses power. She speculates that the mirror has a specific radius of influence (which is moronic, because during the events of the past, the mirror seemed to control the whole house) and assures her brother that they will make it out alive. Kaylie, it is prudent to note, is wild eyed and almost frothing at the mouth. I kept waiting for her to pull out the huge bag of mescaline so she and her brother could really go on a ghostly vision quest.
The siblings argue over the events of their sordid past and it seems, at first, that Kaylie really is the crazy one – nothing happens. No bumps in the night, no dead plants and no psychotic episodes.. Tim, feeling sorry for the dog that Kaylie has left as an offering to the mirror, releases it, and as the dog runs away, we observe the withered plants. The siblings continue to argue until they realize that they have both gapped out and the mirror has influenced them to rearrange Kaylie’s computer equipment. They begin to hallucinate and start spanning in between time periods of the present and their mutual dark past.
They are tormented with visions of their dead parents, and other ghostly figures with mirrors for eyes, and soon, they begin to relive the night that their parents were killed – both through their child selves and their adult selves. The film becomes very confusing at this point and the plot is about as clear as mud. There’s enough blurred lines to make Robin Thicke lose his mind faster than he lost his wife. As a viewer, I wasn’t sure what the fuck was going on, at any given time and I felt that the story would have developed a little better if there had been better pacing in effect. My previous statement about the lack of information in the rotating vignettes, stands true – at no point do the flashbacks illustrate anything to help the viewer understand what is going on, or what happened. I don’t think everything needs to be explained and have a diagram to accompany it, but there is really nothing I abhorr more than a film that offers nothing in the way of a framework upon which to rest my suspension of disbelief. I’m willing to believe that some po-dunk shit bag redneck family bought a ten thousand dollar Dracula mirror, and I’m obviously willing to believe that the mirror is haunted – tell me why it’s haunted. I get the whole psychological aspect – we are only given the same information that the main characters have – I get it.. but it just proves frustrating and tedious.
Don’t read me wrong here – the movie was definitely disturbing to look at. The cinematography was good and it was beautifully shot – it wasn’t plagued by vague bunches of pixelated CGI demons, and surprisingly enough it didn’t go with the Insidious style trope of jump scare after jump scare. It did keep me thinking, and I was REALLY GROSSED out, when during a hallucination, Kaylie bites into a lightbulb, thinking it was an apple.
I am getting sick though, of movies and TV shows that have that one REALLY COOL thing that is so fucking neat but framed in literal garbage. It’s just wearing on me. Why not take that cool thing and spread it liberally over everything else? I really would have liked to have seen a lot more really fucked up hallucinations. These people basically took ghost acid – the possibilities are really endless. Oculus – the Fear and Loathing Edition.
Anyways – big surprises when you’re tripping balls on the ghost acid, is that you see shit that isn’t there and that leads Tim to engage the killswitch and it impales his sister rather than the mirror, and once again he is taken away by police, screaming incoherently that “the mirror did it”.
I dunno. I’m on the fence about this one – on the one hand, I’m really really REALLY happy that Oculus didn’t take a stroll down James Wan Jump Scare Avenue and pander to the audience with some tip toe through the tulips Patrick Wilson bullshit, but at the same time, I see a lot of wasted oppurtunity for visual effects and coherent storytelling that could have been helped with some tighter editing. The movie looked really good, and I’d DEFINITELY watch it again, so that’s something at least. It wasn’t a total loss. Really though, all you can hope for these days is for an A for effort, and with that in mind, Oculus is a success. Not the worst movie I’ve ever seen. Not the best.
And so on that note – remember to buy an insanity mirror, drop acid with Casper the Friendly Ghost, and ALWAYS STAY SPOOKY.