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Movie Reviews

Plugged In Rating
Content Caution
MPAA Rating
Credits
Genre
Drama, Horror, Mystery/Suspense
Cast
Brenton Thwaites as Tim Russell; Garrett Ryan as Young Tim Russell; Karen Gillan as Kaylie Russell; Annalise Basso as Young Kaylie Russell; Katee Sackhoff as Marie Russell; Rory Cochrane as Alan Russell; James Lafferty as Michael; Kate Siegel as Marisol; Miguel Sandoval as Dr. Graham
Director
Mike Flanagan
Distributor
Relativity Media
In Theaters
April 11, 2014
Reviewer
Adam R. Holz
Oculus

Tim Russell is 21 years old. And for the last 11 years, he's been a resident of St. Aidan's Mental Facility. The reason for his long stay? He was accused of killing his father.

At the time of the alleged murder, Tim insisted that his father was possessed by a supernatural antique mirror, and under its influence he had shot and killed Tim's mother. So for the last 11 years, doctors have worked extensively with Tim to help him understand that there is no such thing as a possessed mirror. And that his father's obvious delusional instability (it's clear he's killed his wife, but unclear why) has been passed along to his similarly delusional son.

Tim's finally accepted that explanation after a decade of therapy. It was all just a fantasy, he's realized, a horrific hallucination that was never real.

But just try to tell that to Kaylie, Tim's older sister.

Kaylie had to deal with the aftermath of her parents' death on her own as she was shuffled through the foster-care system. And for her, no reality is more certain than the fact that a certain centuries-old mirror—known as the Lassar Glass, named after its first unfortunate owner in 1754—was responsible not only for her parents' deaths, but for the deaths of some 45 other victims over the last four centuries.

Kaylie has painstakingly documented the Lassar Glass' detrimental impact upon the individuals and families who've been unfortunate enough to possess it. And she can show that, without fail, it ends up possessing them. She's committed to finding and destroying the mirror, which was sold during an estate sale following her parents' deaths. And now as the employee for an auction company specializing in antiques, she's finally found it once again.

Her plan? "Borrowing" it for a couple of days (she tells a co-worker she's going to get a crack repaired) before it goes to its new owner. She's determined to not let that happen. Katie, along with her reluctantly recruited brother, has other plans for it.

As it turns out, the mirror's got other plans for them.

Positive Elements

Kaylie feels driven to prove her father's innocence. She wants to establish that the Lassar Glass is a portal for supernatural evil that possesses and kills any individual or family that comes into close contact with it. Though her quest is grim, her selfless sleuthing is nevertheless commendable. And to counter every possible influence of the mirror she's been able to uncover, Kaylie has also ingeniously constructed what she believes is a foolproof system to outsmart it.

It's clear that Kaylie and Tim love and care for each other deeply and would do anything to protect each other as they strive to clear their family name. Likewise, their mother, Marie, loves her children … before she goes insane, that is.

Spiritual Content

No surprise or spoiler here: The Lassar Glass is indeed seriously, violently, malevolently, hungrily haunted. At first it seems the mirror is haunted only by the ghost of a woman who manages to transfix and bedazzle Allen Russell, Tim and Kaylie's father. He falls under the mirror's thrall and begins acting increasingly erratically. Marie sees this and suspects he's having an affair, slipping deeper and deeper into paranoia—and the mirror plays on her insecurities, heightening them cruelly to send her plunging off the deep end of sanity.

The mirror's devilish influence includes killing plants and pets within a certain distance from it. But that's just the beginning. Ghostly specters with silvery spooky eyes begin appearing from it as well. For much of the film, it's just the woman, whose name is Marisol. It becomes apparent, though, that all of the mirror's many victims now inhabit it. And so we eventually witness a small army of ghostly, ghastly undead trying to keep Tim and Kaylie from destroying their "home."

Sometimes that means direct, chill-inducing confrontations as they shamble ominously toward Tim and Kaylie (both as adults and when they're just children, via flashback). Other times, they work through wickedly nasty hallucinations. The film never offers an explanation for where these spectral interlopers come from or where their power is sourced. The closest we ever get to an answer is Allen telling his children, "I have seen the devil, and he is me."

Sexual Content

Marie wears a nightgown unbuttoned all the way down the front. She pulls her underwear down slightly to look at a scar from a Cesarean section. Elsewhere, some of her outfits reveal cleavage.

Marie and Allen embrace and kiss and fall into bed together. Oral sex is implied. Her suspicion that her husband is having an affair gets reinforced when young Kaylie sees her dad embracing another woman in his office. Later, that pair is shown kissing. And slowly it also becomes evident that Allen is being seduced by Marisol. (Though Marisol's visage is usually horrific, when Kaylie sees her, the specter looks like a normal woman, suggesting that Allen may see her that way as well.)

Kaylie and her fiancé, Michael, kiss and are shown in bed together. (She's wearing a clingy nightie and he's wearing boxers). They're clearly cohabiting.

Violent Content

The opening scene features youngsters Kaylie and Tim hiding from their father, who's pacing the house, hunting them with a gun. That sequence turns out to be a dream (in which he shoots his sister). But throughout the film, the original story from 11 years before is woven into the current narrative of Kaylie and Tim's attempt to destroy the mirror. The horror they experienced as children is shown again, this time with Tim eventually pointing the gun at his father and his father grabbing it to squeeze the trigger to commit suicide.

Marie looks in the mirror and watches in horror as her C-section scar begins to tear open. When she tries to attack her children physically, Allen chains her up in their bedroom like an animal. Kaylie checks on her once, only to find that Mom has become ravenously wolf-like; she charges her daughter and gets yanked back at the end of her chain. We watch the older woman eat pottery and spit out her broken teeth. And Allen ultimately shoots Marie three times, killing her (as young Kaylie watches).

Elsewhere, grown-up Kaylie thinks she's biting into an apple, but it's actually a light bulb, which shreds her mouth. The camera spares nothing as she pulls out the shards. (That also turns out to be a hallucination.) Kaylie gets choked by both her mother and father in separate scenes.

Influenced by her hallucinations, Kaylie rams a pottery shard into Michael's neck, killing him in yet another blood-spattered scene. Similarly confused, Allen tries to remove a stubborn Band-Aid with a staple remover, only to find he's pulled out a fingernail. (There's more blood, and by the end of the film, all his fingernails are gone.) In the film's cruelest turn, one of the siblings accidentally kills the other; it's a gory death involving an anchor swinging down from the ceiling.

Kaylie shows her brother gruesome crime scene photos of the mirror's previous victims while relating the grisly ways they died.

Crude or Profane Language

A half-dozen s-words. God's name is paired with "d‑‑n" two or three times. There's one abuse of Jesus' name. Milder profanities ("h‑‑‑") are rare, but present.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Alan and Marie drink wine at dinner. As things begin to unravel, Marie turns to alcohol to cope. We see her with only a bottle of wine in front of her at dinner one night and watch as she drinks two glasses.

Conclusion

Oculus delivers a tense, terrifying take on the familiar haunted house template. Many mainstream reviewers are dishing out high praise for it, noting the intricate way director Mike Flanagan weaves the two separate timelines into a single horrifying narrative.

This review, however, is more interested in grappling with content and the bigger issues of worldview. Because while Oculus isn't the most gruesome horror movie I've ever seen, it's still more than bloody enough to well earn its R rating. Dreadfully disturbing scenes relentlessly focus on two young children being terrorized by both of their parents—one who's seemingly been possessed and reduced to an evil automaton, the other who's lost her mind in a way that leaves her feral and ferocious.

And we haven't even gotten to Marisol and her cohorts yet.

As boogeywomen go, Marisol's the kind who'll make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. And when we eventually discover that she's just one of many such spooks residing in the Lassar Glass, well, the freak-out factor spikes yet again.

Horror movies, of course, always invite you to root for the poor unfortunates who have to take on supernatural baddies like Marisol. And once upon a time, you could reliably count on the good guys finding a way to effectively combat if not permanently eradicate the evil encroaching upon them.

But ever since The Ring started constricting around the throats of theatergoers back in 2002, directors seem to have lost their enthusiasm for letting good triumph. More often than not, today's horror movies end in sickening despair—valiant efforts at resisting evil's creeping, crawling, crouching ways notwithstanding.

So you can stop hoping to see any reflection of a mirror-free future for Kaylee and Tim. Oculus seems perversely, nihilistically determined not only to scare, but to vacuum up any shred of hope or sacrificial meaning into the dark supernatural void hidden behind the glass. Ultimately, Kaylie's elaborate plans and dogged determination are simply no match for an evil that's had hundreds of years to perfect its supernaturally murderous ways.

And God? He's not in this picture at all.

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