Saturday 14 June 2014

[Review] Oculus

Stars; Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Katee Sackhoff, Rory Cochrane
Director; Mike Flanagan
Writers; Jeff Howard and Mike Flanagan
Running Time; 104 Mins  
Release Date;  13th June 2014

Eleven years after the brutal slaying of their parents, two siblings return to the family home to unearth proof that a malevolent supernatural force was behind their deaths.

Avid horror fans will not necessarily find anything new or original in this supernatural thriller. Malignant spirits occupying household items, possession and hauntings as well as blurring of principle players' realities have been the staple of films such as British horror anthology From the Beyond The Grave (which featured a ravenous mirror), The Shinning, and of course any of films within the Amityville series. However this is still a high quality film worthy to be included in the horror genre.

Howard and Flanagan's script makes many a nod to the classic films mentioned above as well as a few others. The script never detracts from the plight of the principle players Kaylie and Tim Russell (Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites respectively) keeping the audience's attention right at the centre of the story. The added feature of having both the current efforts of the two siblings play out  concurrently with flashbacks from their parents' unfolding before the viewer, add an extra dimension and depth to the story leading to its tragic inevitability. Personally the film is lacking in an abundance of leap-out-of-your seat scares yet this works to its advantage. There is plenty of chills and eeriness maintained throughout by playing out events from the characters' viewpoints and as their sense of reality becomes more skewed so too does the audience. The sometimes quick second flashes of "inventive" deaths add the necessary shock value but it is never overly explicit or lingering with gore kept to a simplistic minimum. The outcome is fairly predictable with an ending that whilst might have some viewers open jawed is nevertheless satisfactory and in keeping with the overall feel of the story.

The tightly plotted script and atmosphere are bonded with strong performances from the principle leads. Thankfully Oculus is not overburdened with too many characters who become surplus to requirements keeping such players like Kaylie's fiance Michael Dumon (James Lafferty)and Tim's psychiatrist Dr Shawn Graham (Miguel Sandoval making a welcome return to the big screen) functional. The rest is left to Gillan et al to add the visceral gravitas that lies at the film's core. Gillan  proves here as she did in Doctor Who that she has the strength and presence as well as natural thespian ability for a leading role and brings the most poignant aspects of Amy Pond to Kaylie along with (aside from one or two slips) an effective American accent. Thwaites as the more timid Tim conveys all the fear ridden vulnerability of a man who's journey of recovery after the terrible ordeal of his past threatens to send him hurtling down into the abyss of his troubled psyche once more. The younger Kaylie and Tim played by Annalise Basso and Garret Ryan revel in the roles and do well to emulate aspects of their senior counterparts.

Stealing the show however, and showing some real versatility are Katee Sackhoff and Rory Cochrane as the ill fated parents Marie and Alan Russell whose brutal demise is revealed in the flashback. Sackhoff's role as mother and wife is in direct contrast to her more well known kick-arse parts in Battlestar Galactica, 24 as well as going toe to toe with Vin Diesel in Riddick. Sackhoff rises to the challenge and is convincing as the maternal figure, her vulnerability and genuine sense of terror adding to the chilling feel of the film. In contrast Cochrane, best known to television audiences as Tim Speedle in CSI Miami, has gone from likeable crime scene investigator to a likeable family man turned psychotic killer. Cochrane's performance of a man who gradually descends into madness is so chilling it rivals that of Jack Nicholson The Shinning.

Despite lacking some genuinely scary moments Oculus promises so much more, an edge of the seat supernatural thriller that puts the audience into the thick of unfolding events. Tension and chills throughout, Oculus keeps viewer attention firmly on the screen and refuses to let go until the end. It is essentially the film that makers of Paranormal Activity and The Last Exorcism should be envious of and aspire to emulate.

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