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article imageReview: ‘Oculus’ is cutting-edge horror drama Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Sep 16, 2013 in Entertainment
In ‘Oculus,’ a woman tries to convince her brother to help her destroy the supernatural being that killed their parents years earlier.
There are numerous films that centre on oaths taken in childhood. Generally these characters establish lifetime bonds while surviving traumatic experiences that haunt them into adulthood. Then, on the event's anniversary or some other momentous occasion, the memories come flooding back and it becomes time to finish what they started all those years ago. In Oculus, a pair of siblings reunite after years of separation but one of them doesn't have the typical welcome home party in mind.
Tim (Brenton Thwaites) finally had a breakthrough in therapy, freeing him from the guilt of killing his abusive father (Rory Cochrane) and convincing his doctor he's ready to be released from the institution in which he's spent half his life. His sister, Kaylie (Karen Gillan), picks him up from the hospital with suggestions for work and housing. But as soon as the formalities are out of the way, she tells him the real reason she's excited to see him: she's found the mirror containing the monster responsible for killing their parents and destroying their childhood. Now she wants them to fulfill their promise to each other and stop it permanently.
This is an excellent haunting movie filled with atmosphere, doubt and outstanding storytelling techniques. Tim and Kaylie have opposing views of the events leading up to their separation. Years of therapy have taught Tim there is a rational explanation for everything. Most of the oddities in his memories have been forgotten or explained away. Kaylie, on the other hand, believes the monster is real, citing 300 years of incidences involving the mirror's owners to support her theory. Only time can reveal which of the two is right – though neither results in a happy ending.
The innovative narrative weaves past and present together artfully and seamlessly. A conversation about something that occurred when they were kids flawlessly transitions into the memory and then back when it’s concluded. In some scenes, they appear to be watching their child-selves run past in a hallway or morph into their younger versions when the fear grows stronger. This technique is never jarring or inappropriate, creating an enticing film experience that judged alone makes this a must-see movie.
But this is not its only recommendation. The acting is solid, the camera work is noteworthy, and the story is well written; though the finale is a bit weak and predictable when compared to the strength of the rest of the narrative.
Oculus screened as part of the Midnight Madness programme during the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).
Director: Mike Flanagan
Starring: Katee Sackhoff, Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites
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