Oculus ★★★½

By the end of the first act, we’ve established a premise: a convergence of two histories rooted in evil. The first: an ornate mirror (dubbed the “Lasser Glass”) of enigmatic origin with a gruesome centuries-long history of ownership. The second: a family torn apart eleven years earlier after coming into possession of the mirror, with a current-day plot to destroy the mirror’s evil once and for all. Okay, so pretty basic horror movie stuff so far.

The interesting aspect of the story isn’t found in the core premise itself, but in its second layer. Our male protagonist, Tim/Timbo, has been dealing with the fallout of the events from eleven years prior - and his role it them - from within a psychological institution, interpreting the events with logic and practicality. His sister Kaylie, however, knows the truth and seeks to prove to both herself, Tim, and the world of the existence of supernatural evil within the Lasser Glass. She approaches this goal with calculation, setting up scientific apparatuses and recording equipment, along with a series of failsafes since she knows how twisted reality can become under the power of the Glass’s evil.

And this is the basis for what the movie is able to do so successfully. It’s fascinating to watch sequences that feel less like flashbacks and more like a converging of past and present. The film is able to demonstrate parallels between the events of eleven years ago and those of today with remarkable strength, weaving these two timelines together in some rather ingenious ways. And because of the psychological distortion that gradually ramps up throughout the film, the counterpoints we are offered through Tim’s psychological coping mechanisms and Kaylie’s scientific toolset build in some wonderful moments where we’re forced to question what’s really unfolding.

But alas, these strengths come to unravel in the final moments of the film, where Oculus begins to rely on common trappings of its genre, ultimately twisting its biggest conceit to deliver a final punch that doesn’t land squarely on target. Its conclusion feels abrupt and unpoetic. Where we’ve spent the last hour slowly figuring out that reality is not something we can trust, and that logic is meaningless in the distorting presence of evil, what we’re delivered in the end doesn’t feel like progress or resolution. It ignores the character development that makes its layered premise interesting, and opts for the swift and obvious out.

It’s a stylishly and technically well-composed film that takes an interesting approach to weaving a tale. Its actors, both young and old, deliver believable and disturbing performances. And it achieves its goal of forcing us to question what’s real and what’s not. It’s scary, gruesome, and tense in the way that the best haunting stories need to be. So it’s surely a success, with all of these checkmarks. But I still don’t feel entirely satisfied with it.

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