Horror movies generally get a raw deal, mainly because the market has been so competitive in recent years. The movies often suffer from a lack of originality or one-dimensional characters and now, sometimes, even a lack of horror, ironically! Horror films have reached a point where they are sometimes funnier than scary and it's because the present-day audience is immune to fear because we've seen everything.
These days we rarely get films that startle us and when they do they are such treasures which is why films like The Conjuring and You're Next as regarded so highly. Films that elevate the formula and actually introduce something new, or put a spin on a familiar story, are praised very highly. So now, we have a new horror film coming out in the first few months of the year. Usually the period from January to March, and sometimes April, tends to bring the worst movies of the year. Thank God then for Oculus, because it's phenomenal.
But it isn't phenomenal because it's fun or "a good time at the theatres". It is a genuinely smart and engaging horror film. A true rarity. In a nutshell, the movie centers around two siblings, Tim and Kaylie Russell, who plan on destroying an evil spirit that resides within a mirror. This "demon" was responsible for the death of their parents. However, it was never proven and Tim was charged guilty of their murder. The premise itself is somewhat 'been there done that' with regard to mirrors and the enchanted creatures living within them. Yet the way this story is executed is beyond unique. It is exclusively original and deeply prolific within the horror genre, a movie that must be watched by all horror fans.
For me the movie wasn't entirely scary, but the tension that it rides upon is definitely worth the watch. A lot of the "fear factor" stems from how the narrative plays out, and especially the contributions of the cinematography and lighting. The use of camera angles and certain cuts to mess with our perception of time and reality are highly effective. The movie continuously gets the audience thinking and questioning things. Today, audiences are treated like fools with regards to horror films. We walk into them expecting to shut off our brains and enjoy a mindless slasher film or gore-fest. Whereas Oculus puts your intellect to work. It's no 'Inception' or '2001: A Space Odyssey' by any means, but by horror film standards, it a really smart film, and that's saying a lot.
When the scares do occur, they aren't cheap. There are some 'jump scares' here and there which rely on loud cues and large images, but Oculus somewhat goes into the "James Wan style". Meaning there is a wide use of long pans and tracking shots as well as make-up. Practical effects are losing the battle to CGI (no surprise) but there are many appropriate films that they can be used subtly, wisely and effectively and Oculus takes huge advantage of this. There is a wide range of practical effects and they are beautifully implemented into the film.
The main cast consists of only six members, two of whom play the younger versions of their counterparts. Yet everyone brings their A-game. You believe that this family and the child actors are exceptional. They carry half the film and do it very well. Children in horror films can easily make or break their "fear factor" but the fear that is cast from young Tim (Garrett Ryan) and young Kaylie (Annalise Basso) is realistic and haunting. With the use of abundant shadows and a great color palette of a de-saturated red and brown, this tiny world that we are thrust into is both believable and frightening.
Oculus does run to one hour and forty five minutes and there are some scenes where it slows down a tad too much. But other than that it is a very solid horror film. Blumhouse Productions continuously sends out memorable horror films. With the exception of The Purge, this is another mantelpiece collection addition.
Verdict: 9 out of 10 stars.