'Oculus' Review: A Mind-Bending New Horror Franchise Is Born

These days it feels like every horror movie can be easily categorized. Either it's a possession movie, a found footage movie, a slasher movie or some inane combination. Finding something different is rare. Mike Flanagan's Oculus, at the very least, strives to be different. Combining elements from several subgenre columns into something that feels new and fresh, Oculus is the story of a brother and sister who try to destroy a haunted mirror that drives people to wild hallucinations, blurring lines between what's real and what's not.

Flanagan's script is a psychological jumping bean as it hops wildly between multiple timelines, putting the audiences in the shoes of the characters, everyone totally unaware of precisely what's going on. The whole thing has a fluid feeling that's not exactly innovative, but exciting enough to potentially kick off a new franchise. Read more of our Oculus movie review below.

Karen Gillan (Doctor Who, Guardians of the Galaxy) is Kaylie, a young woman reunited with her brother Tim (Malificent's Brenton Thwaites) as he's let out of mental institution. Right away she tells him she's found it. The haunted mirror that, just maybe, ruined their lives with its wicked ways. Thanks to a ripe and fascinating backstory spanning generations (surely included for possible sequels and prequels), we're initially lead to believe Kaylie. However, as the film continues on, the validity of her claims that this mirror is haunted are called into question. Then, just as we think we've uncovered the truth, a series of flashbacks we've been watching (featuring Kaylie and Time as young kids along with their parents, played by Empire Records' Rory Cochrane and Battlestar Galactica's Katee Sackhoff) start to become more and more prevalent.

Are we in the past? Are we in the present? Is this really happening? Is it not? We can never quite tell. That's in large part due to Flanagan's use of cameras. Whether it be the diagetic cameras Kaylie uses to document the events, or non-diagetic cameras perched high above the action giving the audience a powerful, off-putting feeling, reality and perspective are always in question. Nothing ever is clear, and that makes things all the more frightening.

As Kaylie, Gillan is a formidable, captivating lead. Thwaites, on the other hand isn't quite as natural a performer. Together, they do a solid job even if they're eclipsed by their younger counterparts, played by Annalise Basso and Ryan Garrett. Those two young actors give the flashbacks real energy and make what feels like a secondary story into much more.

One downside to Oculus is, while it's fun to watch, and and a puzzle worth unraveling, it's never quite that scary. There's plenty of tension, a few jump scares, some gleeful turn-your-head goriness, but never anything that'll keep you awake at night. The film's power comes not from its scares, but from its mystery.

Oculus leaves about 500 million options open for sequels, prequels or spinoffs and I hope we see just that. This is a really interesting, worthy conceit done incredibly well. Fright fans will be pleased.

/Film rating: 7 of 10