All-Powerful Demonic Forces Inevitably Triumph
Release Date: April 11, 2014
Audience: Older teenagers and adults
Runtime: 104 minutes
Distributor: Relativity Media
Director: Mike Flanagan
Address Comments To:Jesse A. Cohn
Ryan Kavanaugh, CEO, Relativity Media (Rogue Pictures/Overture Films)
8899 Beverly Blvd., Suite 510
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Phone: (310) 859-1250; Fax: (310) 859-1254
The movie opens with a young man, Timothy, finally being released from a mental institution after killing his father when he was young. His sister, Kaylie, believes Timothy had no choice but to kill their father, who had been driven mad by an old haunted mirror in their house. However, the humanist psychiatrists at the mental facility have convinced Timothy that Kaylie’s belief about a haunted mirror isn’t real. They’ve given him a completely naturalistic interpretation of everything that happened when his father tortured and murdered their mother, and Timothy shot his father.
Despite this, Kaylie reminds Timothy he promised her years ago he would help her destroy the mirror and kill the demonic ghost lurking within it. She has bought the mirror back and put it in their father’s office in their old house, where the tragic deaths occurred. To thwart the ghost inside the mirror and prove to the world that their father and Timothy are innocent, Kaylie has set up cameras all over the house. If things get bad, she has also rigged a heavy automatic device that will come down and shatter the mirror into a thousand pieces.
Of course, the best-laid plans often go astray, as the old Scottish poet once wrote. Timothy at first refuses to go along with Kaylie’s plan, but once inside the house, he’s magically, and horrifically, compelled to stay. The evil mirror, with its demonic spirits, continues its rampage with a vengeance.
Within the classic conventions of the horror movie, the characters are often faced with a potentially fearful situation where the “normal” order of things is disrupted. This disruption can be graphed by “binary oppositions,” i.e., Life/Death, Human/Animal, and Civilization/Jungle. For example, Dracula the vampire upsets the boundary between Life and Death because he’s both alive and dead, the Wolf Man confuses the line between the Human and the Animal because he’s both a wolf and a man, and King Kong upsets the boundary between Civilization and the Jungle when he escapes his chains to wreck havoc on New York City and its denizens. Faced with this chaos, the characters in a horror movie try to restore order by repairing the balance, frequently by killing or banishing the monster responsible for the disruption. Once the chaotic monster is destroyed or banished, the characters are then able to begin their lives anew.
OCULUS takes almost full advantage of this classic structure. For example, as Kaylie and Timothy attempt to carry out Kaylie’s plan, the movie flashes back to tell the story of what happened during the first encounter with the haunted mirror. This continues throughout the movie. However, the twist to the movie is that, the longer Kaylie and Timothy stay in the house with the mirror, the more that the boundary between Past and Present starts to erode. Thus, Kaylie and Timothy start to encounter their younger selves, and their poor mother and father, and vice versa. Even worse, the haunted mirror seems to be able to confuse Kaylie and Timothy so that they can no longer tell what is Real and what is Fantasy.
The filmmakers brilliantly exploit this disruption of Past and Present, and Reality and Fantasy. It provides almost all of the movie’s most intelligent spooky atmospherics and frightful scares.
That said, the movie seems to fall apart in the third act, which becomes rather predictable. Part, or much, of the problem stems from the increasingly apparent fact that the haunted mirror is just too powerful. After all, a mirror that can manipulate both time (Past/Present) and existence (Reality/Fantasy) is a pretty powerful mirror indeed. Thus, no matter what Kaylie or Timothy try to do, the haunted mirror is able to counteract it. As a result, the protagonists become more and more ineffectual, and the movie starts losing its suspense. Also, it’s pretty hard to sympathize with people who run toward serious danger in a vain or conceited attempt to overcome it.
Eventually, OCULUS makes it clear that the forces Kaylie and Timothy try to overcome are demonic. For example, at one point, the father says that, when he looks in the mirror, “I’ve met my demons, and they are many. I’ve met the Devil, and he is me.”
Because the mirror is so powerful, the evil demonic powers living in it are able to easily overcome the protagonists, causing more murder and misery. This means that OCULUS has an abhorrent, unacceptable, uninspiring conclusion. Therefore, media-wise viewers should want to stay away from OCULUS and its scary occultism.
Ultimately, OCULUS leaves the classic horror movie formula behind. In doing so, it neither satisfies nor inspires. Such dark horror movies seem to have increased in our modern world, probably because so many people have forgotten or forsaken God, including His Law and His Salvation, not to mention His Holy Word, the Bible.
The creators behind OCULUS brilliantly exploit the classic horror movie formula, but their movie loses steam in the third act. This may be due to the fact that the mirror is so powerful, it can manipulate time and reality. Thus, no matter what the sister or brother try to do, the haunted mirror is able to counteract it. As a result, the protagonists become more and more ineffectual, and the movie starts losing its suspense. Worse, because the mirror is so powerful, the evil demonic powers in OCULUS are able to easily overcome the protagonists, causing more murder and misery. So, OCULUS has an abhorrent, unacceptable, uninspiring conclusion.