Karen Gillan may have had a lead role on one of the most-watched genre shows in the world for 3 seasons, but as we all know, you’re not a real star until you have a big-time Hollywood movie under your belt. Since Guardians of the Galaxy is both a few months away and not really Gillan’s film anyway, it’s up to Oculus, a scrappy little horror movie that cost less than GotG‘s craft service budget to be her first trip to the theatres.
In Oculus, Gillan plays Kaylie Russell, who along with her brother Tim (Brenton Thwaites of the upcoming Maleficent) had, let’s say, a bit of a rough go of it as kids (then played by Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan). Their father (Rory Cochrane of Empire Records and other stuff, probably) went a little off the deep end thanks to a haunted antique mirror that was, frankly, a little ostentatious for his small home office and tortured their mother (Katie Sackhoff, of Battlestar Galactica and every fancasting ever). Young Tim handles the situation with Dad’s gun and then spends the next decade in a mental hospital, convincing himself of perfectly rational explanations for everything. Kaylie, however, spends those ten years studying the dark history of the mirror and tracking it down so that when her brother is released they can fulfill their childhood promise and “kill it.”
The film, based on an earlier short by director/co-writer Mike Flanagan, thrives on its old-school low-budget haunted house suspense. It’s tense and atmospheric with a wonderful sense of creeping dread that builds until… the slightly disappointing ending. But that’s more than made up for by what comes before it.
While the broad strokes of what happened to the Russell family are given early on, Flanagan chooses to divvy out the details of those events slowly throughout the film via flashback, with increasing rapidity as both timelines reach their climaxes. He deftly intercuts between the two, especially as they both become more intense, in such a way that at times the audience is genuinely unsure if the characters can see their past and future selves.
Oculus is a rarity these days – a fun, creepy haunted house flick with almost only practical effects. It’s a shame the ending doesn’t live up to rest of the film, though in retrospect, there isn’t really one that would have been totally satisfying.
I give it 6.75 LIGHTBULBS out of 10.
If you don’t like my review, though, there’s always the guy behind me who praised Oculus with faint damnation: “Man, Sixth Sense was better than this.”