When her younger brother is finally released from a psychiatric facility years after his conviction for the murder of their parents, a woman seeks to prove the existence of the malignant and supernatural force she believes actually responsible. Conveniently, the locale of said force is a mirror and therefore easily transportable back to the family home-come-erstwhile crime scene.
Playing out less like the haunted house story one might expect from the outline above, this interesting take on psychological horror initially subverts expectations by presenting us with a brave and capable heroine with a well thought out (though necessarily flawed) plan. Writer and Director Mark Flanagan who later made the derivative and lacklustre Hush (2016)* and valiantly attempted the ‘unfilmable’ Stephen King adaptation Gerald’s Game (2017), has made female protagonists with agency a feature of his work.**
There is some real artistry in the way Oculus employs the storytelling technique of constantly shifting between flashback and present day. Over and above using this device as a clever short cut to character development, it is in the moments where past and present seemingly overlap that the viewer receives the most vivid portrayal of the characters’ fraying mental state.
Yet it is perhaps these intriguing elements which become the film’s worst enemy. In allowing these glimpses into the mind of the characters, there are hints of a rich vein of storytelling left unplundered and therefore ‘setup’ without payoff. Rather than leaving us wanting more, the untapped potential of Oculus has the unintended effect of relegating it toward mediocrity.
Oculus is not without gore nor jump scares and most fans of the horror genre will therefore find it serviceable. Yet in setting up something truly unique and promising a subversion of the genre, there is the abiding feeling that the film lacks the courage of its convictions.
* Specifically derivative of the excellent Wait Until Dark (1967).
** Deaf and Mute or handcuffed to a bed though they may be.