Unplugged & Totally Uncut
Unplugged & Totally Uncut

Garrett Ryan Oculus

April 10, 20147 min
REVIEW OF OCULUS, IN THEATERS THIS FRIDAY APRIL 11TH (FROM INDIEWIRE.COM If there's one certainty in the horror genre, it's that trends will come and go. Some strain of horror will be popular for a few years, then disappear just as quickly, waiting for its moment of reinvention or cultural relevance. The genre's recent past has been dominated by two forces: the torture-porn subgenre, in which our anxieties about war atrocities translate, somewhat clumsily, to movies where people spend whole running times getting pieces of their bodies lobbed off. The other, equally powerful force in horror movies has been the "found footage" genre, again translating our cultural queasiness when it comes to technology and turning it into something positively supernatural. But thanks to last summer's surprise blockbuster "The Conjuring," it looks like those are being shoved aside in favor of good old-fashioned haunted house spookiness. "Oculus" is a perfect example of this newly relevant style, and the results are damn scary. As "Oculus" opens, a disturbed young man Tim Russell (Brenton Thwaites, handsome but somewhat bland) is about to be released from a mental institution. The movie plays cagey with the details, but something terrible and very violent happened in his past. Tim's sister, Kaylie (Karen Gillan from "Doctor Who"), who suffers from similarly sleepless nights, is an auctioneer with a swinging ponytail of brilliant red hair. She meets him as soon as he gets out. What's more: she's got news. It seems that she has found something very important to the siblings. It's an ornate mirror that has just been sold off. And it has a connection to their past. Kaylie uses her connections with the auction house to "borrow" the mirror. She has it brought to their childhood house, which has been in her care since their parents died (cue ominous music). Her intention is to explain to Tim what the mirror really is and then destroy it (she's got a weighted anchor attached to the wall that is scheduled to swing down and shatter the mirror, should she not reset the timer). Kaylie begins explaining the haunted history of the mirror—how almost every owner has met some horrible fate. Tim, rattled by his sister's single-minded determination and sense of purpose, especially coming so soon after his release, combats her supernatural speculation with pop psychology. Some of these earlier scenes are the movie's best, as they have a philosophical battle of wits as the fucked up history of this cursed glass is revealed in its entirety. The most ingenious aspect of "Oculus" is how, once the siblings enter their childhood home, the movie shifts back in time between the two grown kids in the house and their childhood selves in the weeks leading up to the tragedy that would ultimately claim both of their parents. This adds so much to the movie, it cannot be understated, and the way that the two timelines play off of each other is pretty spectacular. The adult Kaylie and Tim might be walking down the stairs, but by the time they reach the ground floor, the camera has swiveled around, revealing their child counterparts (played by the truly wonderful Garrett Ryan and Annalise Basso). In the flashbacks, we get to also see their parents, played by two wholly underrated actors: Rory Cochrane and Katee Sackhoff. (They show how suburban squabbles can soon escalate to a level of supernatural nastiness; metaphors run deep.) Occasionally these scenes of the family's domestic life don't quite work, but that's more of a matter of point of view. If all of this stuff is supposed to be coming from things that the kids have seen, then they don't always work. If it's more about an emotional impression, then everything is just fine. As the spookiness intensifies, too, so does the more outwardly supernatural, mind fuck-y stuff. Half of the fun of the film is watching Tim come around to the fact that all of the psychobabble that has been poured down his throat since entering the ins

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