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John’s Horror Corner: Oculus (2014), a clever, hypnotic, psychologically-driven ghost story about an evil mirror

April 24, 2014


MY CALL: Both creepy and engaging, this time-distorting, psychologically driven ghost story weaves our protagonists’ tortured past into their present with a shockingly smart script. Definitely the best killer mirror movie on the market, and a superior horror film overall as well! MOVIES LIKE Oculus: Although really quite different and of much lower quality, Mirrors (2008) and Mirrors 2 (2010) provide more creepy mirror horror in which evil reflections dare not match the movements of their victims.


POLARIZED REVIEWS: Other reviews’ opinions seem to vary wildly, ranging from calling it poorly acted and carelessly written to praising it as fantastic across the board. I fell on the “pro” side of the argument and feel that those who were disappointed don’t like to think about their horror (during the movie) as much as I do. After all, it is no rollercoaster nor is it really “exciting,” so I see how some may bore of this.

Horror is a genre characterized by one-dimensional characters typified by hardly serviceably acting their way through flat writing to occupy the time until they drink, vandalize, have premarital sex, or do whatever it is that justifies their upcoming death. Despite this, filmmakers press on and we find the occasional pleasant surprise in The Cabin in the Woods (2012), The Conjuring (2013), or other films in which people actually cared about more than simply turning a profit and brought us new spins on classic tropes and even some entirely original ideas. I feel that Oculus is one of those refreshing films. Its scares number low and it’s gore is nothing special, but the acting is phenomenal and the story execution is captivating, although tough to follow at times. More a product of deep and undeniable intrigue than dread, the tension mounts and really never loosens its grip until the closing credits are cast down the screen.


Young Tim and Kaylie.

Tim (Brenton Thwaites; The Signal, Maleficent) and Kaylie (Karen Gillan; Doctor Who) had a seriously messed up childhood. As tweens, they endured a disturbing experience involving their parents’ murder and a demonic mirror which resulted in young Tim being held responsible and placed in a psychiatric care facility until his 21st birthday (ten years later).


Mom and dad are having a tough time.




As a standard rule I never hug reflections.  They’re almost ALWAYS evil.

Not a day after his release to begin his “recovery,” Kaylie makes it readily apparent that everything he has been conditioned to understand as psychosis and repression has remained, much to his surprise, very real to her. Kaylie, in fact, remains absolutely convinced that her parents’ deaths were caused by The Lasser Glass, a centuries old antique mirror housing a malevolent force. Obsessed with proving to the world the evil nature of this supernatural mirror, Kaylie reconstructs the item’s history and creates an evidence-documenting scenario festooned with failsafes to circumvent the antique’s hallucinatory mind-bending wiles. After obtaining this proof, they would destroy it…a task which has proven strangely difficult. Kaylie’s elaborate documentarian approach smacks of Poltergeist 2 (1986), and she leaves little room for error.


Writer/director Mike Flanagan (Absentia) makes frequent and careful use of flashbacks. Kaylie insists that she recalls their terrifying past correctly and Tim resists, contrastingly rationalizing her claims with psychological babble. As Tim and Kaylie’s tortured past unravels before our eyes, that same past seems to slowly take hold of their present as they fight this evil reflective entity.


“Present” Kaylie and Tim.

Any good horror movie pays close attention to lighting as much for mood as for execution. Smart cinematography, deliberately distracting lighting and scene-cut transitions mislead our own sense of time along with our protagonists’. Our notion of the present becomes ever distorted and with every step that Tim comes closer to believing his sister’s claims, their horrific past seems to eerily converge with their perhaps inevitable future as hallucinations distort the present. It’s easy to get lost in it, but I found that to be intentional and engaging.



Everyone did a solid job with their roles. Rory Cochrane and Katee Sackhoff (Riddick, White Noise 2, Battlestar Galactica) play the parents and they really own their mania. I was particularly shocked by the committed performances by Garrett Ryan (Insidious Chapter 2) and Annalise Basso as the younger Tim and Kaylie, who get ample screen time in the flashbacks. If anyone left something to be desired, it would be Brenton Thwaites’ portrayal of the most complicated character Tim.


Oculus is a movie you can’t trust. As the story persists and the timeline is distorted we are as readily confused as the protagonists…and this is a good thing! It’s clever, it keeps us guessing, and there’s nothing like it. You may be left with more questions than answers. But this is a quality of deliberately disorienting mystery rather than plot-holed writing.

This is a must see!




33 Comments leave one →
  1. April 24, 2014 1:00 pm

    Good review John. A lot more fun, than it was scary. Which may not be great for horror-fanatics, but definitely a good time for people who just want to have a fine time at the movies.

    • johnleavengood permalink
      April 25, 2014 8:29 pm

      Agreed. Nothing exciting here. Yet my eyes were pasted to the screen in interest.

  2. April 24, 2014 2:41 pm

    I love this quote: “Horror is a genre characterized by one-dimensional characters typified by hardly serviceably acting their way through flat writing to occupy the time until they drink, vandalize, have premarital sex, or do whatever it is that justifies their upcoming death.”
    Great stuff Horror Czar

    • johnleavengood permalink
      April 25, 2014 8:30 pm

      Thanks! What can I say? Extensively verbose sentences describing horror is my specialty.

  3. July 9, 2014 12:18 pm

    Watched it. Liked it. Brain was tired after. I really liked that.

    • johnleavengood permalink
      January 30, 2015 11:09 am

      This movie made me feel like a hamster on a hamster wheel.

  4. July 9, 2014 9:40 pm

    There were some really frightening moments, but I think the idea that the mirror was manipulating those around it was spookiest of all. I enjoyed the film and didn’t leave feeling cheated.

    • John Leavengood permalink
      March 25, 2016 12:03 pm

      Despite some haters out there, I really liked just about everything about this film.

  5. David permalink
    January 30, 2015 9:42 am

    I believe the main reason to hate this film stems from its smartly developed plot and characters that require the viewer to actively think and react rather than sit back and keep tallies of the victims. This film was the source of discussion for days at our house as we dissected the plot and character’s motivations. Do not watch this movie if you think linearly and cannot appreciate the appeal of a film produced by someone who divorces themselves from the formulaic patterns found in the typical horror film.
    Loved that at the end of the movie we have as many questions about the mirror as we began with. No wise seer wandering into the camera shot to explain everything.

    • johnleavengood permalink
      January 30, 2015 11:10 am

      Your comment serves as a solid review all on its own! Yes, yes, yes to everything you just said!!!!


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