Oculus is defined as a circular opening. It's the perfect description of a mirror that allows a loosely defined, ghostly demonic force to prey upon those unfortunate enough to purchase that piece of glass.
Dr. Who's Karen Gillan is Kaylie. Her family possessed the mirror when she and her brother were children. Whatever is in it killed mom and dad, and put little brother Tim into a mental institution for a decade or so.
Mom and dad are played by 24's Rory Cochrane and Battlestar Galactica's Katee Sackhoff. Tim is played by Brenton Thwaites.
Kaylie takes Tim and the mirror to their childhood home with the intention of doing away with the "thing" once and for all. To get the job done, she puts in place plants and a dog to let them know the entity is out, alarms for various functions, battery powered lighting, a couple of computers and lots of video cameras.
All are important to the plot. The force they're taking on is super powerful and has the ability to confuse the senses and warp reality.
Co-writer and director Mike Flanagan and screenplay co-writer Jeff Howard base Oculus on a short film written by Flanagan and Jeff Seidman. Flanagan weaves the mirror's tale and what happens to the children with the story of them as adults trying desperately to get rid of the deadly curse.
Once the characters are in the house, Oculus becomes an incredibly intense -- and creative -- ghost story. You're sent back and forth through time as each thread unfolds slowly and steadily pushes you toward a shocking, unsatisfying climax that -- paradoxically -- is satisfying.
Flanagan skips the tricks most horror directors use to sell a premise. There are no things popping out from off screen, and no creatures behind a closed doors or hiding in dark corners. Flanagan relies on what makes horror so much fun when it's done right. That's a great script and story, and most excellent acting from the adults mentioned earlier, and from a quite charismatic Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan, who play Kaylie and Tim as kids.
Oculus is the best horror movie since Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth in 2006. While not quite in that league, Oculus is frighteningly good and light years better than most of the crap passed off as horror these days.
-- How's Mr. Movie's movie picks this week? Let him know at www.tri-cityherald.com/arts/mrmovie.
Director: Mike Flanagan
Stars: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Rory Cochrane, Katee Sackoff, Annalise Basso, Garrett Ryan
Mr. Movie rating: 4 1/2 stars
Rated R for violence, mature themes, language. It's playing at Regal's Columbia Center 8, the Fairchild Cinemas 12 and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on DVD.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.