Written by: Andrew Hilbert
When I was a child, horror movies intrigued me. I was probably the scardiest of cats among my brothers and friends. Movies I look back on today like Chucky or Nightmare on Elm Street, I wonder what in the hell I was ever afraid of. But horror movies, good horror movies, put us in touch with our most irrational and primal fears. They make us aware of our mortality and either make fun of it or push it as far as it can go. When I was a kid, Friedkin’s The Exorcist was that movie. Scenes and themes from that film can still catch me off guard in my memory and get me quaking in my boots. I can now say that Mike Flanagan’s Oculus incites those same childlike fears in me as an adult.
After seeing the premiere of the final cut at SXSW, I was terrified and exhausted by Flanagan’s masterful manipulation of terror. When I got home, I looked at every mirror with suspicion and, for the first time since I was a kid, slept with all the lights on.
My taste in horror is geared more towards the schlocky slasher with dark humor. Oculus was not that but it was a brilliant tour de force that left the audience guessing at what came next and scared as all hell for the answer.
Oculus is told in the past and present simultaneously. We see the main characters as adults first; Tim is just being released from a mental hospital and his sister, Kaylie, is at an auction overseeing an ornate hundreds years old mirror being auctioned.
Throughout the movie, perspective from the past and present are constantly shifting in a well threaded narrative that connects the two and serves to disorient the audience. Oculus is a movie that you can’t trust; you will question what you are seeing just as the characters are unsure of what they are seeing. You will be tricked into thinking something just as the characters are. Flanagan marries the easy shock scare and the terrifying and constant dread throughout the movie that you will feel exhausted and satisfied when all is done.
The soundtrack is brilliant and reminds me of John Carpenter soundtracks that serve as a bassy underbelly. It’s so subtle and constant that it’s not entirely noticeable until the music syncs so well with the action that the frights are enhanced by its presence.
Of all the films I’ve seen so far at SXSW, Oculus is the gone and away winner. It is satisfying, it is scary, and it will be well worth your money to go see in theaters.
BIO: Andrew Hilbert is a writer living in Austin, TX. You can get his chapbook, Toilet Stories From Outerspace, and keep up with what he’s doing at http://hilbertheckler.blogspot.com