On paper, the concept of a haunted mirror may not sound particularly scary – but against the odds, Mike Flanagan’s supernatural horror 'Oculus' delivers plenty of tense moments, sharp shocks and general creepiness.
Developed as an evolution of Flanagan’s earlier short film 'Oculus: Chapter 3 - The Man With The Plan', this full-length feature stars Karen Gillan (better known to many as 'Doctor Who'’s Amy Pond) as Kaylie Russell – a young woman who is determined to prove that a sinister antique mirror known as the ‘Lasser Glass’ is responsible for a series of grisly deaths, including a couple within her own family.
Struggling to come to terms with her childhood ordeal, Kaylie recruits her reluctant estranged brother Tim (Brenton Thwaites) to help prove the mirror’s malevolent influence. As they return to the old family home – armed with an array of cameras, alarms and temperature monitors – two stories unfold in parallel. In the present, Kaylie and Tim engage in a debate of pragmatism vs. superstition, while disturbing flashbacks draw us into the horrors of their childhood.
Thwaites and Gillan have believable sibling chemistry, and there are great supporting turns from Katee Sackhoff and Rory Cochrane as Kaylie and Tim’s parents. The mirror itself is perhaps the real star of the film, though – a silent character that allows the narrative to slip fluidly from past to present, and into disorienting hallucinations.
It’s a gripping approach that means there are often moments when the characters (and the audience) aren’t really sure what’s actually real. The end result is a film that frequently has you on the edge of your seat – or hiding behind your fingers, depending on your horror tolerance level. While the 15 certificate renders some of the action a little tame, 'Oculus' is nevertheless an entertaining watch, and its clever narrative style certainly throws down the gauntlet to some of the more complacent horror franchises. Note to 'Paranormal Activity': you may need to raise your game.
'Oculus' is out today in UK cinemas, through Warner Bros. Find more from Lauren at @laurenjginn.