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DVD Review: "Oculus"

Marketed as a psychological horror film, “Oculus” definitely makes you think – makes you think of how much time you wasted trying to figure out this travesty. With an interesting, “Twilight Zone” concept, and good actors, the mistakes made in the execution really sink this movie. Even when given a second chance on DVD, this movie is neither interesting nor especially scary, and it’s only a matter of time before it ends up in the bargain bin, next to “Air Buddies” and John Wayne triple-features.

The plot is pretty solid. When a horrific accident leaves a brother and sister orphans, and the brother charged with murder, his sister determines to prove that the real culprit was a haunted, vintage mirror. With brother Tim released from the mental hospital, older sister Kaylie acquaints him with her plan to document and destroy the mirror, which she has reclaimed from an antique auction.  However the mirror has plans of its own.

The time-jump plot goes back and forth between Tim and Kaylie’s pasts as well as their present, slowly revealing the tragedy of their parents, who originally brought the mirror into their home as part of a redecoration. This is surprisingly effective, considering that the fate of the parents is revealed at the very outset of the movie.  Even knowing what happens, seeing it is still a shocker, and probably the scariest thing about this movie. Also scary is the mirror itself – or rather, the images reflected in it. It’s a classic horror movie concept, and if it was made forty or fifty years ago, Vincent Price would almost definitely have had a role in it somewhere.

Here is where the first problem presents itself – while the film hinges on the stories of Tim and Kaylie, and they are the ostensible heroes, they aren’t interesting enough to hold that distinction. Not for a single second do they sell themselves as brother and sister either. Rory Cochrane and Katee Sackhoff  in the roles as the ill-fated parents are much more convincing, and if the movie had been given a straightforward timeline, with more scenes involving them, I might have been tempted to care more.

Also annoying is how “Oculus” thinks it’s smarter than the audience. The twists and turns in Tim and Kaylie’s journey to document the demise of the mirror is completely predictable without meaning to be. There wasn’t a single “surprise occurrence” where you couldn’t hear someone in the theater whispering their completely accurate prediction of what is about to happen. Sometimes predictable horror can be fun, but in a film that by its very title promises a mind-screw, it’s just disappointing. It even falls prey to the abysmally crappy trick of many recent horror films, which is to show the most gory scenes in the movie in the trailer. For those who will be seeing it on DVD for the first time, it probably doesn’t matter; but for those who saw endless stream of “Oculus” trailers and got lured in with promising scenes of bulb-biting gore, only to find that the trailer spoiled every good bit, it’s frustrating.

This movie was compared to “The Conjuring” many times, with “Oculus” being cited as scarier, while “The Conjuring” generally snagged such praise as “more fun,” “old-fashioned horror,” etc. But it’s apples to oranges, and “Oculus,” by trying to outsmart the audience and failing abysmally, will be forgotten after a couple years, while “The Conjuring” will remain consistently good.

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