Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Ghost Mirror, Ghost Mirror on the Wall

Horror is a constantly slammed genre in the universe of film. Famous for blood, gore, cheap effects, you name it. So why do people still attempt to make horror films? Is it even possible any more to make a good horror film? Today's film will try. This is Oculus.

A young woman, Kaylie Russell (Karen Gillan), wants to clear her little brother Tim's (Brenton Thwaites) name from the murder of their father, Rory (Rory Cochrane), when they were kids. Kaylie is insistent that there is a dark supernatural force attached to the mirror their father had in his office and eleven years later, when Tim is released from the mental institution he has been in, she sets up an experiment to prove that the mirror is evil, her father is innocent of the murder of her mother, Marie (Katee Sackhoff), and Tim is innocent of the murder of their father. As the past collides with the present within the house in the form of flashbacks and hallucinations, we see the events surrounding the murders eleven years earlier with a young Kaylie and Tim (Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan respectively) struggling with the strange events in the house. But how strong truly is the mirror and Kaylie's plans to expose the truth really work?

No, guys, you have to face the front.

With a huge television star gracing the big screen several times in the upcoming year, there will always be a nagging fear that Karen Gillan, looking much the same as her famous Amy Pond, will make her films seem more like extended episodes of Doctor Who. It is a nagging fear, but a completely ungrounded one. Gillan holds her own with a strong American accent, a darkly entertaining, yet brutal, way of talking about the mirror, and an obsessive personality, completely focused on proving the mirror's evil. Thwaites is a powerful companion too, crossing so brilliantly between fear, bravery, and confusion of his reality. His uncertainty as to what is real is the film's strength in a nutshell; as the protagonist, if he cannot tell what is reality, how are the audience ever expected to. Cochrane and Sackoff also put in solid turns as the parents who are falling under the mirror's evil control. There is something endlessly ominous about loving parents having a terrifyingly strong and quiet presence in the fit of a murderous rampage. 

Does no one in this film know how to use a mirror?

The first real gem of Oculus is the child actors. Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan are simply incredible. Often occupying the screen alone, the pair do not just fill the space, they control it. They are also giving plenty of chances to prove their acting abilities curtsey of a fantastic script by Jeff Howard and Mike Flanagan, the latter of which also directed the horror. Oculus' second gem is the ingenuity of the plot. There is nothing overly original about a ghost mirror, or possessive spirits, or even vengeful young adults, and yet Flanagan has come up with something fresh and exciting. Perhaps it is the ambiguity of the ending, forcing the audience to question and make up their own minds on the extent of the mirror's power, or maybe it is the way the past and present dance with each other, darting in and out of rooms, interlinking together to create a fluid and exciting narrative. Either way, Oculus has people talking, arguing, and debating about all aspects of the film from the mirror's powers, to how they as individuals would beat it. A true achievement. 

Flanagan's direction is confident and dark. There is a morbidity about it and yet there is still plenty of lighter entertainment too. Most successfully though, it causes the audience to question what they see. This is not one of those horrors that just wants to shock its viewers with cheap scares, it wants to engage them, make them uncomfortable, and creep them out. Oculus has weight that a lot of modern horrors lack and has thrown Flanagan into the horror spotlight. A frightful joy. 

Best Bit? Kaylie and Tim are outside the house looking in at themselves preparing to kill themselves with one of Kaylie's self-timed 'precautions'. Are they outside or inside? Is the mirror trying to draw them back in or keep them exactly where they are - at death's door? The moment sums up how the mirror plays with the mind and leaves the audience with an unsolvable dilemma.

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