Oculus (Blu-ray)

August 8, 2014 7 Min Read

Review by: Matt Malouf

Plot: What’s it about?

One surprising element about Oculus is that (unlike many horror films these days) it’s not a sequel, remake or even a found-footage horror film. No, it’s actually an original idea. There is a short film it’s based on, but it was always intended to be made from that. It seems Hollywood is done with the days of slasher films and masked killers like Freddy Kruger and Jason Voorhees. Oculustakes a much subtler approach, however, the results are admirable, but not always successful. After he’s spent some 11 years in prison, Tim Russel (Brenton Thwaites) wants to move on with his life. His sister Kaylie (Karen Gillan) hopes to exonerate her brother by showing that he had nothing to do with their parents death many years prior. The mirror has supernatural abilities, and Kaylie has gone to great lengths to study the many origins of it and what it has done to other people in the past. She rigs their house (the same house of their childhood) with various cameras and devices to try to capture what it does on film and use it to show that it was never her brother that did anything wrong. As their story is being told, we’re also treated to the story that occurred 11 years prior. It plays out over the course of the film, and eventually things come full circle by the film’s conclusion. I wasn’t particularly fond of this method at first as it is never as suspenseful since we pretty much know the outcome of the earlier story.

Credit must be given to Oculus for avoiding loud jump scares and providing something of a scaled back horror film – it’s still rather tame despite its R rating, but it never builds to much of anything. I appreciate films like these that take their time in the storytelling approach, but things simply become tedious after a while. There are some tense moments, but they’re far too few to make much of an impression. That’s really the worst thing about this film. The direction, limited setting and even acting are better than most films in this genre, but it’s just not scary enough to leave an impression. Even the rather bleak ending works in a strange way. I also appreciated that the female lead is much smarter than most that you find in this genre. She knows what the mirror is capable of and anticipates much of what might go wrong. She might be too smart for a film like this, actually. Director Mike Flanagan who previously worked on a few TV shows, makes his debut here and shows promise, but for his next film I think he needs to focus a little more on the scares. I suppose there’s only so much you can do when a mirror is essentially the killer in the film, but certainly something more could’ve come from this. Ultimately, I just can’t recommend Oculus. For its technical merits and other positives, it just doesn’t work in terms of frights. For those curious, a rental might suffice, but I can’t advise a purchase unless you’ve seen it and know you like it already.

Video: How’s it look?

We get a strong transfer here, even if the film is mostly confined to the same setting for long stretches. The print is clean and smooth with nice flesh tones throughout. Details come through nicely as well. The mirror itself shows every little detail on it as well. Despite the modest budget, this film still looks quite nice. The image is AVC encoded with a 2.40:1 ratio. Fans will be pleased with how things are presented here.

Audio: How’s it sound?

The DTS HD track also impresses. There was a moment early on where an alarm goes off that scared the (you know what) out of me. It showed nice range throughout and things were always nicely balanced with a good bass on several occasions as well. You might want to have your remote handy, though as the volume tends to jump up and down during some of the bigger moments in the film. Vocals sounded fine with no major issues. The rears kicked in nicely and not to mention unexpectedly on several occasions. In short: This track is great and does justice to the film.

Supplements: What are the extras?

  • Audio Commentary – There’s a fairly informative commentary track from the filmmakers here. They are clearly passionate about the film as well.
  • Deleted Scenes – The clock in at just under 10 minutes. Nothing here is missed, but there is a nice coda and a small sub-plot involving the father having an affair that probably should’ve remained. These include optional commentary.
  • Inside the mirror: Creating Oculus – This is a short featurette that still provides some great info. The short film on which this is based on is discussed as well as a few other aspects of the film. It’s short, but it’s much better than most. Check it out.
  • Short film – We are treated to the 30 minute short film – Oculus: Chapter 3 – The man with the plan. This is fairly interesting and also includes an optional commentary track that provides some good notes as well. Even the obscure title is explained here. I can’t say the short film did much for me, but it was interesting to see here nonetheless.
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Previews
  • Digital Copy

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