Oculus (2014)

Mirror, mirror on the wall, you just don’t scare me. Not at all.

The much hyped haunted mirror horror film, “Oculus,” arrives in theaters this weekend riding a wave of film festival buzz, a highly positive Rotten Tomatoes score and overwhelming enthusiastic reviews on Internet Movie Database. I’m not sure if all these folks saw the same movie I just saw, or if the film print they saw was possessed of the same kind of mind manipulation powers that the title mirror in “Oculus” uses on its victims, but in the era of quality spook shows that include “The Conjuring,” “The Woman in Black” and the “Paranormal Activity” series, “Oculus” is only the reflection of better ghost movies.

The film opens with a 21 year old man being released from a mental hospital after serving 11 years in treatment for the murder of his parents. His doctor believes he has conquered his inner demons and is ready to be reunited with his older sister who believes that he was always innocent, and only acted in their self-defense. She is still convinced that their parents were possessed by evil spirits lurking in an antique mirror that hung in their father’s home office.

While working for an antiques auction dealer, she has managed to re-acquire the evil mirror and plans to bring her brother, fresh from the psycho ward, back to their childhood home to document the mirror’s supernatural powers and ultimately destroy it.

The rest of the entire film is a tangled web of flashbacks to the original horrific events as they parallel the current struggle of the siblings to deal with their past and try to outwit the evil spirits lurking within the mirror. This constant time shifting in the narrative is distracting and constantly pulls the viewer out of the current story, diluting most of the suspense.

Neither of the two young leads are ever convincing of being real human beings that have faced the kind of traumatic upbringing these characters have survived. Instead they come across as really passionate and dedicated actors who read every line in the script at emotional level eleven. In fact, the level of overacting across the board in “Oculus” is more akin to daytime soap operas than feature films.

The parents, played by Rory Cochrane (“Argo”) and Katee Sackoff (“Halloween: Resurrection,” “Battlestar Galactica”) come off only slightly better, but I have to put much of the blame on director, Mike Flanagan (“Absentia”), who clearly thinks bigger is better when playing any scene.

The script, also by Flanagan, is filled to the hilt with expository dialogue that the actors are forced to spout off like their very lives depended on it, and it’s sometimes painful to watch. For example, there is a scene when the sister regales her brother with all the research she has done on the long, dark history of the mirror and all the deaths it has caused over centuries, and I would swear she was auditioning for the lead in the senior play version of a John Grisham legal thriller.

As the mirror’s powers twist the minds of the young protagonists to the point where it’s impossible to tell what’s real and what’s hallucination, the viewer is assaulted with numerous quick cuts to spooky ghosts with glowing eyes. We’ve seen these same spooks in a dozen better movies over the last couple of years, and not once did the hairs on the back of my neck stand up nor did I ever jump to a stinger on the film’s soundtrack.

Which brings me to my biggest issue with “Oculus.” It’s dull. I kept hoping that the premise of the haunted mirror, which is indeed a creepy prop, would eventually lead somewhere interesting, but the climax falls utterly flat.

Ultimately, with just a few cuts to remove some of the bloodier scenes, I think “Oculus” might have been better served as a young person’s horror film; a slightly darker episode of “Goosebumps.” When held up to the mirror of other recent ghostly thrillers like “Insidious,” “Sinister” and “The Conjuring ,” “Oculus” is hardly the “scariest of them all.” Wait for DVD.

The Phantom of The Ville

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