Thursday, 10 April 2014

OCULUS - Review By Greg Klymkiw - "ABSENTIA" Director delivers more creepy crawly and jolts of terror.

Oculus (2014) ****
Dir. Mike Flanagan
Starring: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Katee Sackhoff, Rory Cochrane, Annalise Basso, Garrett Ryan

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Okay, so it's official. I have yet another terrific independent American director to add to my list of supremely talented artists who are making really cool shit in genres of the fantastical. I passionately loved Mike Flanagan's 2011 shocker Absentia (in spite of a few niggling drops of the ball on a narrative level). It fuelled my need for first-rate direction that exceeded mere craft and displayed an original voice and it mostly did what I love horror movies to do by mining the creepy crawly in normal everyday life and deliver jolts of terror in ways first developed by the Master and Father of Horror, RKO's legendary Val Lewton.

Oculus is a cinematic equivalent to the paralyzing effects of batrachotoxin in those pesky South American dart frogs. It doesn't take long for you to be infected with the movie's power to shut down all the neurons, rendering you immobile and susceptible to its power to induce cardiac arrest. Worst of all, or rather, BEST of all, is that the picture is so riveting you'll feel like Alex in A Clockwork Orange during his "treatment". Appropriately, given the picture's title, your oculi are pretty much Krazy-glued to the screen and once you're sitting there, means of escape simply don't exist.

On one hand, the movie is rooted in one of the oldest horror story tropes in the book - the mirror that forces its characters to indulge in the most insidious, malevolent behaviour. On the other hand, Flanagan orchestrates the proceedings with such aplomb that you'll feel like you're watching a horror movie of incredibly rich originality which, of course, it is. Flanagan takes all the tropes and turns them on their head, forcing the blood to rush to the top of your cranium whilst marvelling at how fresh and vital the picture feels.

Set mostly over the course of one supremely disquieting evening, Oculus tells the spooky story of Kaylie (Karen Gillan) and her younger brother Tim (Brenton Thwaites) as they square off against an antique mirror which, during their childhood, turned Daddy (Rory Cochrane) into a hot-headed abuser and their Hot Mama (Katee Sackhoff) into a victim who is beaten and tortured by hubbles. In retaliation. young Tim (Garrett Ryan) commits a brutal, merciless crime of passion which sends him to the nuthouse and forces his young Sis (Annalise Basso) into foster care. It's years later and upon Bro's release from the booby hatch, Lil Sis sets things up to destroy the evil once and for all, but also capture the events on multiple cameras to prove, first to Bro' that he was not responsible for the tragedy and to also convince the world he was innocent.

Once Hunky Brother and Babe-o-licious Sister are locked in that house with the mirror, the movie is so consistently hair-raising that you'll be wishing you'd thought to wear a pair of Depends during the screening. Reality is never what it seems and the picture veers from flashback to flash forward and back again whilst straddling real and imagined assaults on the senses of the characters (and us).

I especially love how Big Sis rigs the whole house up with audio visual aids and temperature sensors. It's a nice nod to the first Paranormal Activity (a genuinely terrific picture in spite of the sequels and the endless, mostly awful rip-offs it inspired), but it's also fun getting the added perspectives of screens in plain view during the proceedings. Sometimes, we get to see shit, the characters DON'T see when they're not looking when WE are.

Flanagan also edits the film himself which I'm always happy to see when genuine filmmakers, as opposed to the usual camera jockeys recruited to helm so many contemporary genre films. He clearly and efficiently has a great eye for what he needs to builds slow creepy scares as well as the de rigueur shock cuts. The latter are especially well handled in terms of knowing when to utilize sound, often a few frames before actual picture cuts for maximum impact. His compositions are also first rate. Flanagan and cinematographer Michael Fimognari obviously had a great rapport since the frame is always the way it needs to be for maximum narrative impact and I especially loved the appropriately evocative lighting.

The cast, right across the board, is first rate also. Not only are the performances right on the money, I'm going to be a pig here and say how wonderful it is that he casts a trio of actors who are not only first-rate thespians, but frankly, it's always a bonus when the female leads are major drool-inducers and even better, when the picture delivers the cherry on the sundae of a super cute young fella as the male lead.

Try to see Oculus on a big screen while you can. Though I often hate sitting with real people, this movie is a genuine crowd pleaser and it was fun sitting in a massive cinema with a whack of folks screaming, jumping and shuddering with utter delight. In fact, it's probably a great idea to see the movie during the first or second week before it's moved into smaller-screened venues. The picture really looks gorgeous and on a humungous screen, you'll get mega-bang for the buck.

Oculus is in wide release and in Canada it's being distributed by VVS Films.