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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Silent House (2012)

Silent House

Release Date: March 9, 2012

Director: Chris Kentis, Laura Lau

Stars: Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese, Eric Sheffer Stevens

Runtime: 86 min

Tagline: Inspired by true events.

Yet another film sucked me in by the whole ‘inspired by true events’ pitch.

Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) and her father, John (Adam Trese), are renovating their family’s lakeside retreat for resale. Abruptly, Sarah is unable to find her father, and she finds herself trapped in her home. She soon realizes she cannot contact the outside world, as events become increasingly ominous in and around the house.

Silent House offers an okay ride, that has a mediocrely slow build-up that ultimately leads to an extremely moronic and unrewarding ending.

Apparently, this is based on true events that occurred in a small Uruguayan village in the 1940s, and the fact that this actually happened is admittedly a little twisted and eerie. Silent House is a remake of a 2010 Uruguay horror film called La Casa Muda (The Silent House), and the story was originally adapted by Gustavo Hernández. The fact that this film had to be directed by two people feels a little ridiculous to me, because I really don’t understand the purpose of doing that.

The build-up is pretty good, it’s sometimes a little slow – but it can also be pretty thrilling. There’s a fair share of good scenes mixed in here, but the bad ones outweigh those that are good. A big problem with this flick is that it thinks it’s much smarter than it actually is, and by the end of it, a lot of the material doesn’t make a lot of sense. Some of the happenings are extremely ominous, eerie, and mysterious, so that makes for a nice atmosphere for the viewer. Sometimes the film can be extremely ridiculous, because the happenings are just so abrupt and arbitrary that it made me think, “Whoa! Where the heck did that come from?”

There isn’t a whole lot of gore here, so it’s much more a psychological ride than anything else. It’s not a film I regret seeing because there a few redeeming qualities, but there isn’t anything extremely special. The whole convenience of the house not having power, AND the home being all boarded up,  felt extremely clichéd and odd. The panicky performance given by Elizabeth Olsen is pretty fine. It’s not like her character’s a dumb bimbo or anything, because some of her decisions are pretty logical. It’s the decisions of some of the other characters that often feel quite illogical. The continuous take makes a fairly unique experience for a horror film (well, it was shot in ten-minute takes, which in turn makes the editing impressive), and the fact that it was shot in real time makes it unique, too. The cinematography is really rough; it reminded me of The Blair Witch Project, because the cameraman just follows the characters around, I’m convinced he (or she) had a wicked case of the shakes during shooting. The characters are decent for a horror film, but some of their actions don’t make the most sense.

The film stars Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese, Eric Sheffer Stevens, Julia Taylor Ross, Adam Barnett, and Haley Murphy.

Silent House offers an okay psychological ride, an okay story, and a unique real time experience. The play-out can be a little slow, and the film has the ability to easily, and unintentionally, confuse its audience. I won’t return to this film, because the ending was extremely unrewarding. There are a lot of other psychological horror thrillers that can satisfy more than this, so you won’t miss a whole lot if you decide to skip it. It’s one of those movies that I could recommend if you found it on TV and there was nothing else on.

40/100

The Strangers review

The Strangers

Release Date: May 30, 2008

Director: Bryan Bertino

Stars: Scott Speedman, Liv Tyler, Gemma Ward

Runtime: 86 min

Tagline: Lock the door. Pretend you’re safe.

The Strangers offers a spooky and fairly unique experience.

James Hoyt (Scott Speedman) and Kristen McKay (Liv Tyler) have just returned to a remote Hoyt family vacation home after a wedding reception. In the middle of the night, they get a knock on the door. The porch light is off, and the young woman is mysterious. Soon enough, they begin to get terrorized by three masked strangers. The couple find themselves thrown into a wicked game of cat and mouse. This violent struggle they have been unfairly plunged into makes them make quick decisions for survival that they never thought possible.

The Strangers offers a fairly unique experience, poor character development, and a fine story that plays out well.

The fact that this film is based on actual events (that happened in the director’s [Bryan Bertino’s] childhood neighbourhood) makes the film about twenty times spookier. That’s really what makes this hit closer to home, because it just makes you more aware than you already were that these sort of occurrences tend to actually happen a lot.

I usually really like watching this film because it often offers an entertaining experience, but I’ve seen it about four times and I think I’ve finally worn it out, and if I ever want to watch it again – it probably won’t be for another few years. Its ups are that it offers an entertaining ride, it isn’t all that time consuming, and it has some effective scares. The real scary thing about this are the masked villains, the true happenings of it all, and it’s a film that has a large abundance of fairly effective pop–out  scares. It is more of a psychological horror/thriller because the killers terrorize the couple, and they really don’t rush to attack them – they just mostly use a whole charade of mind games at the start. Also, the use of music in this film is truly clever and very effective. There isn’t a whole lot of gore, only at a few scenes – so for those who are faint of heart won’t overly mind this one.

There are unfortunately a number of flaws for this one. A huge one is the unruly camera work, it isn’t like The Blair Witch Project bad, but it still isn’t very steady at all. The opening scene isn’t a huge flaw, but it just makes the conclusion really predictable. The character development is really quite awful. I always criticize this one scene, because one character is just so darn stupid (people who have seen this might know the scene I’m speaking of). The said character isn’t a major one, but I should make a commentary for that scene because they’re really that dumb. Anyway, the character development: the beginning doesn’t allow any great character development at all. It isn’t a huge plot point, but here’s your SPOILER ALERT warning anyway. Since Kristen declines James’ marriage proposal, the viewer may just see the female lead as cold-hearted, which in turn, doesn’t allow for a great view on the lead characters. Some of their decisions are just really stupid, too, because they really don’t believe in the buddy system at all.

It’s like they always want to be alone, which isn’t a clever idea in this sort of situation. One thing

I also greatly criticised in this viewing because I was looking for it, the terrorizers always knew wherever the couple was. It maybe took about ten to thirty seconds for them to locate each other. It’s a big property; it just shouldn’t be that easy!

I have three silly theories of how the strangers could find the couple so easily, so you shouldn’t really take them very seriously. The terrorizers must have ran into the couple beforehand, maybe the wedding reception or something, and put tracking devices in their drinks, and when the couple had digested the small devices, the strangers could just track them on a tracker and find them no problem. Or, my second theory, is that the masked strangers must have had a fourth party somewhere in the woods. That person would be equipped with night vision goggles, black clothing and  would tell the strangers wherever the couple ended up. So if either James or Kristen had their back to a door, the person would be like: “Mr. Masked Man, one of the couple has their back turned to the house, so walk up behind them with an axe in a menacing manner.” And my third theory is that the strangers are simply a family of psychopaths who have psychic abilities.

The film is written and directed by Bryan Bertino, and stars Scott Speedman, Liv Tyler, Gemma Ward as Dollface, Kip Weeks as Man in the Mask, Laura Margolis as Pin-Up Girl, and Glenn Howerton.

The Strangers has quite a few flaws, from character development to pacing to an often lack of realism; but, it also offers some good entertainment, an effective use of music, an effective true story, and a good psychological ride. I did definitely like it enough to be excited for a sequel. I can recommend it to those who like psychological horror a lot, or lots of pop-up scares.

 65/100