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MOVIE REVIEW: 'Oculus' scores scares with smoke and mirrors

By: Dennis Harvey Variety
April 10, 2014
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photo - A mirror haunts a brother and sister (Brenton Thwaites and Karen Gillan) in "Oculus." Courtesy Intrepid Pictures.
A mirror haunts a brother and sister (Brenton Thwaites and Karen Gillan) in "Oculus." Courtesy Intrepid Pictures. 

"OCULUS"

Starring Karen Gillan, Katee Sackhoff, Annalise Basso, Brenton Thwaites, Rory Cochrane, Garrett Ryan; directed by Mike Flanagan; 101 minutes; R for terror, violence, some disturbing images; B

Five years before "Absentia," a haunting and character-rich horror tale, Mike Flanagan directed 2006's "Oculus: The Man With the Plan," a half-hour fright film that won raves from genre fans on the fest circuit. His new feature expands it into an impressively intricate supernatural thriller in which an orphaned brother and sister return to destroy the antique mirror they think killed their parents years earlier.

Cleverly complex, if not quite as scary or memorable as one might have hoped, "Oculus" should expand on the underseen "Absentia's" buzz (though probably still mostly through home formats) and boost Flanagan another step up the industry ladder.

In 2002, the Russell clan moved into a new suburban house, buying some upscale decor items to celebrate. Among them was a roughly 300-year-old wall mirror hung in the home office of dad Alan (Rory Cochrane). Soon he was spending an inordinate amount of time locked in there, overheard talking to a "lady" who never was seen coming or going, and manifesting increasingly secretive, irrational behavior. Mom Marie (Katee Sackhoff) grew concerned with his odd manner, then started losing a grip herself. The ultimate result: two dead adults, two surviving but permanently traumatized children.

After that, 10-year-old Tim was sent to a juvenile mental institution that he's being released from now, on the brink of his 21st birthday. (He's played as an adult by Brenton Thwaites.) His doctor (Miguel Sandoval) is confident that he's finally put into perspective the delusions that have plagued him since his parents' demise. Reuniting with older sister Kaylie (Karen Gillan), however, he finds she still holds tight to the version of events he's since renounced. In fact, after spending years in foster-care homes, she began an auction-house career solely to regain possession of the "Lasser Glass" the Russells once owned. (She's also uncovered the long history of grotesque and inexplicable deaths suffered by prior owners.)

Having inherited the house they last lived in together, Kaylie pushes reluctant Tim into participating into the elaborate experiment she's set up to document the mirror's malevolent supernatural powers - and absolve the family of lingering domestic-violence-turned-deadly accusations - before they destroy it for good.

Dennis Harvey, Variety

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