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Review: Oculus

Despite a few shortcomings, one of the most creative and effective horror films since The Conjuring

A dark, hard to watch, creative, and slightly anticlimactic horror movie. Oculus is the latest low-budget horror film from Producer Jason Blum (Paranormal Activity, Insidious). It stars Karen Gillian (Doctor Who) trying to exonerate her brother by proving that the crimes he is accused of were caused by a supernatural being that resides in a mirror. In the process, they must confront the demons of the house and the horrors of their childhood.

Directed by Mike Flanagan, it expertly weaves together the present storyline with flashbacks of the siblings' childhood to slowly build suspense and to deliver many genuinely effective scares. It's story structure is innovative, and Flanagan uses many low-budget yet creative techniques to switch back and forth, which are enjoyable to watch (and sometimes be duped by).

Gillian does great work playing the brave and persistent sister trying to rid her family once and for all of the haunted mirror. The character dynamics were deep and well formed, so that we truly cared about each character on screen, making any threat all the more scary. At times, I was so on edge I wanted to jump up at the screen and protect the characters. 

While the film has cheaper jump scares, it also has more thought-provoking scary elements that stick with you after you leave the theater. Ultimately, what is scary is the the catastrophic family dynamic, the threat of domestic abuse, and the mistreatment of mental illness. We are truly scared by the movie because we care about the characters.

Frankly the ghosts we see are not what is scary about this film. They look kind of silly, as they are visually generic, and the more we see of them, the less effective they are. Instead, what is scary about the film is the tense atmosphere, and the horrors of a messed up family dynamic.

While the first two acts (and most of the third act) are very scary and entertaining, Oculus falters in it's resolution. The way things are wrapped up just doesn't feel very satisfying, especially when there are a lot of more interesting directions it could have taken. Still, it's a testament to the effectiveness of the rest of the film that I walked out of the theater thinking about all of the successful scares, the ramifications of character relationships, and the real world implications of the movie.

Ultimately, Oculus is a thought-provoking original horror film that offers many genuine scares, even if it falters a bit in its conclusion. Oculus is in theaters now.

Rating: 8/10 Stars