Oculus is a poor reflection on the horror genre
Producer of Paranormal Activity returns with this rip-off that lacks fright as well as originality, says Andrew Johnston
OCULUS (15, 103 MINS), Starring: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Katee Sackhoff, Rory Cochrane, Annalise Basso, Garrett Ryan, Director: Mike Flanagan
Just as Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer spawned a slew of 'ironic' slasher rip-offs in the 1990s and Saw and Hostel saw derivative 'torture porn' swamp the horror genre in the 2000s, now it's the turn of mega-hits Insidious and The Conjuring to inspire lame imitators.
Proudly billed as being "from the producer of Paranormal Activity and Insidious", Oculus strives to cross the aforementioned box office smashes by having a disturbed brother and sister set up video cameras to record supernatural goings-on inside the house where their parents were killed. Throw in an evil mirror (an idea nicked from Amityville: A New Generation), a murderous young boy locked up in an institution till adulthood (see also Halloween) and shuffling ghouls with glowing eyes (as in The Fog), and Oculus doesn't have an original bone in its body.
This might not bother the presumed target audience of undemanding teenagers, but for anyone who has seen more than three scary movies, the only terrifying thing about Oculus is that the studio is already working on a sequel. The film is rated 15, but the irony is that no one over the age of 15 could possibly be afraid of anything here. Oculus has the muted colour palette and sombre tone we have come to expect from such fare, but it forgets to bring the horror. There are a couple of nicely nasty moments – one involving a fingernail, the other a light bulb – but there's little point when the characters are this dull and the story this uninvolving.
Oculus tells the tale of Kaylie (Karen Gillan) and Tim Russell (Brenton Thwaites), siblings who are determined to get to the bottom of a brutal family tragedy, which resulted in the death of their parents (Rory Cochrane, as dad Alan, and Katee Sackhoff, as mum Marie) 11 years previously. Tim, who was 10 when the incident took place, has served time for the slayings, but he maintains his father was responsible, while Kaylie blames a supposedly possessed, antique mirror (that came from Balmoral Castle, no less).
And so they return to the scene of the crime with an elaborate video surveillance system in tow, determined to destroy the mirror once and for all – rather than just keeping it locked away where it can do no harm, as apparently has been the case for the past 11 years.
If this all sounds rather daft, there's also a distracting, tricksy timeline to contend with, as we're yanked backwards and forwards between the weeks leading up to the killings and the present day, with child actors Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan playing the young Russells. The cast deliver their lines competently, though you'll be hard pressed to remember a name, a face or a single line even as the end credits roll.
After several coming-of-age dramas, director Mike Flanagan turned to horror with 2011's Absentia, but he's no Wes Craven, or even James Wan. Oculus is the very definition of workmanlike, and only a reasonably bold denouement saves this turkey from one-star ignominy.
Still, despite its flaws, audiences have flocked to see Oculus. In the US, the independently produced flick made back the bulk of its production budget on the first day of release. And in a genre where money talks, this doubtless means we'll be looking into Oculus's malevolent mirror many more times to come.