Oculus (2014)

OculusReleased: April 11, 2014. Directed by: Mike Flanagan. Starring: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Katee Sackoff. Runtime: 105 min.

Oculus is a film directed by Mike Flanagan, partly based on his own 2006 short movie called Oculus: Chapter 3 – The Man with the Plan, an idea that sprouted into something more complex seven years later. Just plain Oculus seems to be the better choice for a title. It’s an impressively original horror film dealing with a young woman, Kaylie Russell (Karen Gillan), who tries to exonerate her brother, Tim Russell (Brenton Thwaites) who was convicted of murder ten years ago. She plans to do so by proving the crime was committed by a supernatural phenomenon responsible for the death of 45 persons over the span of four centuries. The phenomenon harbours inside an antique mirror.

The premise is what’s largely intriguing about the film. It’s one of the aspects that lends to its originality. What is also original of the film is that mirroring embodies another meaning in this film, which is engaging to me. I won’t get into it, but it’s something that contributes to some food for thought discussion of the film. The narrative is original, because what happened in Kaylie and Tim’s childhood is told basically at the same time as when they are trying to catch the mirror’s crazy activity on camera in the present day. It might sound a bit haphazard – but I assure you, writer/director Mike Flanagan (co-writing with Jeff Howard) maintain control and focus throughout. The intelligent narrative is quite a success.

The narrative is even cooler because actors of the young versions of Tim and Kaylie (Garrett Ryan and Annalise Basso, respectively) get a significant amount of screen time, because it goes back and forth between old actors and the young actors. Karen Gillan is good as the controlling and motivated Kaylie. Basso acts with the same maturity as Gillan. Thwaites is good, as far as horror films go. Katee Sackoff is effective and creepy as the maternal Marie Russell, and Rory Cochrane is compelling as the paternal Alan Russell. 

It’s great when a horror film actually has a good, engaging story to tell. The characters in the film are good. Kaylie’s motivation to prove his brother’s innocence is because she is tired of being ridiculed, and people calling her brother a murderer and her father crazy. The brother did his time in a mental asylum, so this film isn’t like that movie Conviction where Hilary Swank’s character tries to prove his innocence while he’s doing his time. 

Kaylie needed her brother’s help, because this evil mirror is very testy, and going against the mirror alone would be an impossible battle to win. This makes the film a psychological horror film that is left open to interpretation, as well as a supernatural horror flick. Stupid decisions by characters should be excused because the mirror makes them think they’ve stuck together, but they really aren’t. It’s a tricky villain in this way. The meaning of the word oculus intrigues me further into the mythology of the film. The mirror screws up the character’s perception, and they see what the mirror wants them to see. Perception is a big thing in this mildly scary and very creepy feature.

These aspects make this an effective mystery. It taps into fears first explored in The Shining, and haunted artifacts. It’s atmospheric and cool, and makes viewers question throughout what is reality and what is a conjuring of the mirror’s tricky mind games. It’s a creepy film that sticks with you, especially some bloody imagery, and a good, if repetitive, score. It’s an entertaining horror film that is scary enough to give me another excuse not to eat apples and to not let an antique mirror in my house for a little while. 

Score80/100

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Reviews from my Notepad: Million Dollar Baby (2004)

Reviews from my notepad will be a series of reviews coming out every Wednesday, or whenever I feel like posting it. They will just be quick reviews of films that I waited too long too write a full-out review for, so I just write a few thoughts about it. Or it may be some jot notes I found that have my thoughts of the film. Either way, they won’t be long reads. Here’s the first review: Million Dollar Baby (2004).

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Million Dollar Baby

Release Date: January 28, 2005

Director: Clint Eastwood

Stars: Hilary Swank, Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman

Runtime: 132 min

Tagline: Beyond his silence, there is a past. Beyond her dreams, there is a feeling. Beyond hope, there is a memory. Beyond their journey, there is a love.

Million Dollar Baby may pass itself off as that old generic underdog story that has been done one thousand times before. It does have a few elements to make it that generic story, but this one won Best Picture. With a lot of underdog stories, the feel-good moments often outweigh those sad scenes. That is not the case here. The first half has enough happy scenes to keep you going, but the mood and atmosphere alters completely in the latter half of the film. It becomes much more ominous and depressing, and if you’re not prepared for that drastic change, you may not be open to liking this. The truth is, it’s a good film that may have a very abrupt alteration of atmosphere, but it still transitions that fairly well. The plot is fairly simple, but it uses it to its advantage – and it puts some great themes, and deep emotional content, into play. The relationship that grows between Maggie Fitzgerald (portrayed by Hilary Swank) and Frankie Dunn (portrayed by Clint Eastwood) is quite beautiful. It changes from a sort of loathing on Dunn’s part, to a deeper respect and love, where it feels like a non-condescending father-daughter relationship. This transition is well done, and it is not rushed, so it does feel believable. There are great performances from the cast: Morgan Freeman especially, Hilary Swank and Clint Eastwood. The motivations of Swank’s character is easy to see. She has had difficulties in her life, and that’s probably because of her very rude and selfish family. It’s a film that’s good, but it wouldn’t be worth the price of one million dollars.

90/100

Celebrity Birthdays: October 15 – 21

Sorry for the delay, I got my days mixed up.

Bailee Madison (October 15)

Happy 13th birthday to Bailee Madison. She is a great young actress. At only the age of 13, she has worked with Robert Patrick (in Bridge to Terabithia); Natalie Portman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Tobey Maguire (all in Brothers); Hilary Swank (in Conviction); Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston (in Just Go With It); and Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce, and the writer Guillermo Del Toro (in Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark).

Jon Favreau (October 19)

Happy 46th birthday to Jon Favreau, director of the Iron Man films and the (apparently) disappointing Cowboys & Aliens. I’m not a really big fan, but his films seem good for those super hero fans.

Viggo Mortensen (October 20)

Happy 54th birthday to Viggo Mortensen. He is best known for performing in A History of Violence, and playing Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings series. He frequently works with director David Cronenberg, their collaborations include: A History of Violence, Eastern Promises and A Dangerous Method.

Danny Boyle (October 20)

Happy 56th birthday to Danny Boyle, director of Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours, 28 Days Later… and Trainspotting. He looks a bit like a tall version of Golum from the LOTR films, doesn’t he? (I say jokingly.) I liked Slumdog Millionaire, but not really 127 Hours.

Other Birthdays: Oct. 15, Larry Miller (59). Oct. 16, Tim Robbins (54); Brea Grant (31). Oct. 18, Zac Efron (25); Freida Pinto (28). Oct. 21, Carrie Fisher (56).

Who is your favourite actor/actress on this list?

My reviews of films they have starred in: 

Bailee Madison: Bridge to Terabithia (2007)