Right off the bat, Oculus looked like a movie I'd avoid at all costs. People with white eye contacts and spooky mirrors don't really scream "this will be good" to me. And the last time I gave in to that marketing gimmick (Oh, Keifer, why'd you do Mirrors?), I really hated myself afterward. But I had seen Absentia on a Netflix Instant whim a year earlier, and I noticed that Mike Flanagan had directed this one, too. I decided to give it a go.
So glad I did.
"You must be hungry."
Oculus takes place in two time-lines at once (yeah, that's hella gimmicky, but you can deal), so get ready for that. It's a double watch for comprehension purposes, that's for sure.
We've been talking about hauntings - haunted houses and ghosts, specifically - but what about objects? Can an inanimate object as simple as an old mirror be given as much characterization and menace as, say, The Overlook Hotel? As much personality as Kayako's Onryo?
The hulking, overly ornate, onyx colored frame of the Lasser Glass sure does help (thing is a missionary style kind of hideous). So does giving it a name. Karen Gillan's angry/nervous face whenever she sees it does, too. From the moment she walks in on it in the auction house, you can tell there's a personal history there. To her, this is a living thing.
Not to mention, the scariest parts of this movie involve the way people get "caught up" with this mirror.
Each person has an individual relationship with it. They stare at themselves, they stare at others, they see things it suggests they should. So, yes, I'd say. This singular object feels pretty darn haunted to me.
I'm generally horrified by the idea of mothers being driven to attack their children, and the mirror has a brilliantly clever way of making that happen. Playing to the narcissist in all of us, it preys on the very human part of each character that doesn't like even the tiniest part of themselves: that line there, that scar here, and even deeper, that look in your eyes that says, "I'm tired; I'm insecure; I've had enough."
Even worse are those who the mirror makes appear better, more attractive. Its manipulation is enough to subvert roles and uproot the entire familial system. For all its creepy crawlies with white-out eyes (there are a good number), this is really a psychological horror film.
I'd love to take the time here to give the family element and role reversal the break down it deserves, but I just don't think it can fit in a quick-crit like this one. But let's save the full analysis for a rainy day, and say on a first watch, here's what I think you should notice:
- The female power dynamic and how much the mirror seems to want to take it down.
- The contrast of the ancient evil of the Lasser Glass inside a shiny, new, suburban setting.
- How scary it is to see someone standing half an inch from a mirror with their back to you in the middle of the night (Am I right?).
That's a good place to start.
I waver between watching Mom fondle her c-section scar in the mirror (creepy and gross) and Kaylie biting down on her apple, only to end up with a mouth full of glass. BUT, hands down, I've got to give it to the initial encounter between Kaylie and the mirror.
In the store room of the auction house, waiting for transfer, she pulls its sheet off and gives it a fond "Hello!" Karen Gillan (of Dr. Who fame) is the star of the show, truly, in a brilliant I-know-everything sort of way. This reunion with an old foe is both personal and threatening. "I hope this still hurts," in regards to the mirror's one glaring crack feels mean and meant. And of course, the movement of the sheeted sculptures in the reflection is everything I want in a scary movie. It isn't a sight gag or a pop-out-at-you scare, but a test of wits (yours and Kaylie's), and a question of your sanity. It is jarring. It is subtle. It is slow. And it gives The Lasser life.
Other Things To Notice:
What happens to Mom. That's all I'll say.
*Oculus is currently streaming on Netflix, so you have no excuse not to check it out*
If You Like It, Watch:
Absentia* - Writer/Director Flanagan's first effort is not quite at this level, but it's intriguing in the same way. Amazing concept involving the seven-year "in absentia" law - nothing like seeing your missing husband walking around town right after he's declared legally dead...
*I do believe this is still streaming on Netflix
Show The Kids:
Snow White - Of all the Disney movies, I feel the worst recommending this for actual children. But if you want to get real about mirrors that know too much, you know this is it.
*NO, The Haunting will NEVER arrive. Follow my blog with Bloglovin