Promoted as a gift from the producers of Paranormal Activity and Insidious, Oculus is actually an expansion of a 2006 short horror film by Mike Flanagan: Oculus: Chapter 3 – The Man with the Plan. It was picked up for an expansion a few years ago and given the Hollywood treatment. Unfortunately, the “enhanced” version does nothing to advance the early movie. If anything, the expanded movie lessens the punch of the original 30 minute short film.
The original Oculus was brilliant in its simplicity. A man surrounds himself with recording equipment in a room where a haunted mirror has been placed. Although it’s not a “found footage” movie, he utilizes the video equipment and recording devices to tell the future audience what he’s doing. He’s researched the history of the mirror and found it to responsible for countless deaths. But he’s going to defeat the evil presence inside the mirror by having every possible precaution taken to stop it. In the end, the mirror appears to have won again, having more power than its victim suspects. We also learn the man’s father was a victim of it. And there is the lingering doubt of the supernatural element: is he just going crazy?
The new and improved Oculus adds a brother and sister to the story. Following much of the same time line as the earlier movie, we learn the brother Tim Russell has been released from a mental hospital on his 21st birthday. He shot his own father in front of his older sister Kaylie after their father killed their mother. His sister has picked him up since the review board determined him to be of no threat to society. But she has a motive of her own: Kaylie’s obtained the mirror she believed possessed their father, driving him into madness. As in the earlier film, she’s set-up a battery of electronic recording devices intending to prove the mirror is controlled by demonic entity. But there is one added attraction: a weighted pike which will smash the mirror if she doesn’t reset the mechanical timer which releases it every half hour. She’s set the experiment up in the house where they lived years earlier. But, once again, the demon in the mirror is more powerful than can be imagined.
The audience consisted of local out to enjoy the good turn in weather. For the first time in months I had a chance to watch a movie in a theater with a good-sized crowd. I estimate the turn-out for the 7:50 PM show at 100 people. Not a stellar sell-out, but a good crowd for the popcorn sellers who run the Regal chain of theaters. Other than a few kids (what the hell?) running in and out, it was a quiet and appreciative crowd, looking for a good scare.
With the bigger budget and expanded script, what made the claustrophobic earlier movie work, just doesn’t add anything. The level of acting is adequate, just not good enough to justify the lengthier running time. Plus, having the movie take place in a McMansion causes it to loose the paranoia of the earlier movie. It’s nice to see a bigger budget for the monsters from the mirror, but not enough to break anything new. And if you’ve seen the earlier short film, you already know how it’s going to end.
But there was something which infuriated me about this film: its treatment of children. We don’t see the protagonist as a young boy in the original film. In the new one, the story constantly interacts between the adults trying to stop the demon in the mirror and their younger selves. Showing two innocent kids being terrorized in bad enough, using them to deliver a downer ending is indefensible. I have strong moral feelings against the abuse of children as the target of violence in any film. This movie had the audacity to make you feel pity for the young kids, then show everything they’d endured dumped on them once again as adults. Yeah, I know abuse happens on kids in real life and permanently messes them up later. I don’t need it shoved in my face as part of the story line of a horror movie.
I suspect this is a new trend in horror cinema: to get the audience to accept the use of children as the object of violence. And if it is, I want no part of it. You would think the entertainment industry would’ve learned a few things after Roman Polanski and Victor Salva. But, like the demon in the mirror, it just keeps coming back.