If there’s anything I roll my eyes at more than Horror movies, it’s films produced by the WWE. Sure, most modern Horror movies offer little outside of some cheap jump scares, torture porn or flat-out unlikable characters that we just want to see kick the bucket (see just about any slasher movie) but with WWE Studios, well, sit down and watch any movie in “The Marine” series some time and you’ll see what I’m talking about. With all of this in mind, you can imagine my cynicism when I first saw the trailer for 2013’s “Oculus”, a WWE-produced psychological thriller starring Karen Gillan, of Doctor Who fame, and Brenton Thwaites as a brother and sister trying to enact their revenge on an antique mirror, known as the “Lasser Glass”, which caused the deaths of their parents eleven years prior.
Yes, that is the actual premise of this movie; but no, it’s, surprisingly, not as dumb as it sounds. Also there are no WWE Superstars/Divas to sully it with their, mostly, lackluster acting chops (*cough*RandyOrton). Granted, most of these movies likely have horrible directors who couldn’t direct traffic attached, but that’s beside the point.
The main premise for this movie is that after being released from a mental institution after 11 years, Tim Russell (Thwaites) is reminded of a promise made between him and his sister Kaylie (Gillan) and how “she found it”, it of course being the Lasser Glass, a near 400-year-old mirror that is believed to have caused the death of every single person who’s owned it over the years. However due to his previous institutionalization, Tim spends the first third or so of the movie trying to convince Kaylie that her motivations may be her trying to cope with the fact that, according to his therapist (Miguel Sandoval), their parents went coo coo for cocoa puffs, their father Alan (Rory Cochrane) killed their mother Marie (Katee Sackhoff) and then a 10-year-old Tim (Garrett Ryan) killed their dad in self-defense… only to be arrested for murder and thrown into the loony bin until his 21st birthday.
So after some convincing, Tim agrees to help Kaylie bring the Lasser Glass to their old family home, which has been in her possession for five years at this point, since she inherited it on her 18th birthday. She then reveals that she intends to document the supernatural powers of the mirror in order to clear her family’s name, runs over all of her precautions, including alarms for everything from eating and drinking to changing the tapes on the 4 video cameras she has pointed at the mirror, as well as a GIANT FREAKIN’ BOAT ANCHOR on a catch release that needs to be reset every hour or so or else it’ll release and crash into the mirror, hopefully destroying it once and for all.
It’s here where we get into the main meat of the movie where the mirror plays tricks on our heroes in the present, while we get multiple flashbacks to the events that lead to Tim’s psyche snapping like a Twix bar and Kaylie swearing vendetta against a 400 year old hunk of Cedar and glass she claims is Satan. While there really aren’t any outright SCARES here, save a few somewhat well-executed jump-scares, there are, not only disturbing moments, such as this scene shown in every promotional video (including the trailer I put at the beginning of this post):
(I AM NEVER EATING ANOTHER APPLE AS LONG AS I LIVE!)
However, there are also quiet scenes that REALLY rack up the tension and suspense as you, the audience, join Kaylie and Tim in questioning whether the events you see are really happening, or if it’s all the work of a supposedly demonic antique. It all comes to a head with the third act where we’re constantly thrown between the night Allen and Marie died, and the present, with Kaylie’s experiment. However, I won’t spoil the ending for you.
I’m sorry if it seems like I’m being vague here, but this is a rare case where I don’t WANT to spoil how a movie ends because once you know how it ends, it kind of ruins the mood. The first time I saw this, the final act had me on the edge of my seat, partially because the movie doesn’t give you a whole lot of time to understand what’s going on, but mostly because of that ending.
Which brings me to the final verdict.
Oculus is a FANTASTIC movie with lots of great suspense and some scenes that have legitimate scares… none of this “Jump Scare every 30 seconds” crap you see with most modern horror films. However, the movie tends to lose it’s punch on subsequent views because you KNOW where the scares are. While you may not remember EXACTLY when they happen, you KNOW they’re coming, and are able to mentally prepare yourself for them. With that being said, this is a definite must-own for any fan of Horror, Supernatural Thrilliers, or even Psychological Thrillers.
Another HUGE plus is that both Kaylie and Tim, through a combination of the Writers and the performances of Gillan and Thwaites respectively, come off as likable people. It’s a refreshing change from the tired horror douche-bag stereotype. You want to see them succeed and vanquish this evil piece of furniture once and for all, redeeming their family name, and riding off into the sunset to live happily ever after, or some crap like that. Whether or not they DO, though. Well… spoilers.
All in all, not bad coming from the company responsible for “Jingle All The Way 2” and “Knucklehead”.