Hello and welcome to another edition of BSX Reviews!
It’s that time of year when we’ve just passed the movie-gutter months of February and March, and start seeing some movies that may have a chance of being good. As I do many weeks, I looked last minute at what movies were opening and picked one I only had only a passing interest in. Enter Oculus, a new horror movie by the production studio that brought you The Marine, The Marine 2, and The Marine 3: Homefront! Yes, I’m talking about WWE Studios… what’s that you say? You didn’t know WWE – THE name in professional wrestling, had a production company? Well… they do. To be honest, when I saw this logo appear onscreen (ahead of Relativity Media, and BH Productions) I started to laugh. WHY, was WWE, making a horror movie? I put my (now lowered) expectations aside and watched the movie for what it was, one of the better horror movies I’ve seen in recent years.
The setting for the story is simple. After 11 years being institutionalized, Kaylie and Tim, a brother and sister, reunite to destroy a cursed mirror. The mirror has the ability to make you hallucinate and experience what it wants you to see. The narrative is split between the present day, and the protagonists recalling their experiences with the mirror as children. All in all, a pretty basic set up.
WHAT THIS MOVIE DID RIGHT:
As with many cursed artifact/possession movies of late, I find that many don’t establish groundwork for how the objects or entities behave. In most narratives going for a semi-realistic atmosphere, to build drama, you have to have an if/then structure. If you watch the tape in The Ring, then you’re given a death sentence of seven days, If you open the Dibbuk Box, then you will unleash a horrible entity that will possess and kill you. This rule doesn’t apply to movies trying to feel realistic, in real life you wouldn’t have all the answers, it would be possible you didn’t know what you did to cause this curse or entity to fall upon you. So why am I telling you all this? Because that is what Oculus does very well. It is stated very early on that the mirror will prevent you from destroying it. If you act with an intention to destroy it, it will defend it’s self. Additionally, the characters are aware that this is happening; knowing the rules; they set up safe guards to prevent the worst from happening, and ensure the destruction of the mirror. It is because you have this structure, that when everything goes off the rails, you realize exactly how much peril these characters are in. Knowing that things have gone wrong make you invested in what will happen and how they will overcome this life threatening force.
Genuine Feeling of Anxiety:
Although it doesn’t happen often in this movie, there are a few times that the movie genuinely gives you a feeling of anxiety. These moments usually occur during the scenes with the younger protagonists; something about helpless, confused children pacing around a dark and quiet house builds tensions very well. That’s another thing that sets this movie apart from its contemporaries. It doesn’t only rely on jump scares to get your adrenaline pumping; it takes it time building tension, and setting atmosphere. It’s nice to not constantly expect jump scare after jump scare.
Handled Gore & Violence Tastefully:
A very short point; Oculus does a very good job of showing violence, and gore with out over-stepping the line and rushing headlong into the “disgusting” category. Although it has an R rating, and could easily fall into this trope, it does an excellent job of showing you what you want to see, and letting your mind fill in the parts that had the potential to push it over that line. There’s nothing wrong with gory, violent movies of course (Human Centipede, I’m looking at you.) – but the possession/cursed artifact genre usually doesn’t blend the two very well.
WHAT THIS MOVIE DID WRONG:
Showed the Monster:
This is a huge problem I have with most horror movies. Unless you’re movie exists within the Slasher genre, DON’T SHOW THE MONSTER! Once you shine a light on the monster in a horror movie, it loses that element that made it scary. Look at Mama, Insidious, hell – Jeepers Creepers! Any movie within this genre, that shows you the monster, loses some of its power to scare you. I’m not talking about jump scares – any one can do a jump scare, I’m talking about genuinely making you feel terror. If you absolutely feel the need to show the entity, keep it out of focus or in shadows.
Rushed the Narrative:
Early on, the movie blows through a lot of exposition, very quickly. Because of this, it’s hard to get a grasp of who the protagonists are, or what their past experiences have molded them into. The purpose of exposition or world building in general is to help you empathize with the character. When you skim over that section to get to the scares as fast as possible, you lose the audiences ability to empathize with the character. Empathy is so important in horror movies; if you get an audience to empathize, they’ll become invested. To an extent, the characters on screen become an avatar for the audience; the protagonists become the audience’s will to survive. In my opinion, that’s why you care more about the younger version of the brother and sister, because you spend so much more time watching the situation get progressively worse and worse for them.
Hit or Miss Acting:
I usually hate when children are cast as leads in movies, I don’t care for them. Their acting is usually flat, unbelievable, and they never really become the character. The younger versions of the protagonists are actually a pleasure to watch, they act and reason the way a brother and sister of that age would. It was a pleasant surprise. The acting of the rest of the cast is lackluster; okay, but never brilliant.
I would recommend this movie to any person jones-ing for a possession/cursed artifact flick, otherwise I’d wait until it hits Redbox of Netflix. This is by no means a great movie; it’s a good movie. Although the premise of the story is simple, it’s told in a way that, at the very least, keeps you mildly entertained through it’s low points. While I only found myself rhetorically asking “Why are you doing that?! ” a handful of times, the logic behind the protagonists plan of attack very interesting. Finding out the WWE Studios made this movie (while still funny), is actually a credit to the studios name. Of course Blum House and Relativity helped finance the movie, but this is far better than something I would’ve ever expected from WWE Studios. It’s likely that in a few years Oculus will be all but faded from the public’s memory, relegated to the collection of horror movie lovers like myself. I hope that other film makers and studios take some of the unique idea this movie presents, and molds it into something great!