REFLECTIVE Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites get spooked in 'Oculus.'
Mike Flanagan's frightening Oculus mashes two masterpieces, Kubrick's Shining and "The Haunted Mirror" (from the 1945 horror classic Dead of Night), while staying deep in the territory of
The Turn of the Screw.
This is a horror film so well-crafted that it can tell you the terrifying things it's going to do and still make you jump when it does them. The essence of the film is whether a brother and a sister can agree on what they're seeing, right when it is key for their sanity and survival.
Kaylie (Karen Gillan) blames an antique mirror for the catastrophe that befell her family, who once lived in a suburban mini-mansion in the golf-course part of the South. She's traced the history of the mirror to an 18th-century British nobleman, and discovered it has driven dozens to madness, self-mutilation and murder. Kaylie turns her family's vacant house into a makeshift parapsychological lab, with closed-circuit cameras, laptops and a trap that can break the glass with one flick of a button.
"We're holding a gun to its head," Kaylie says to estranged brother Tim (Brenton Thwaites), who provides the "there must be some rational explanation" dialogue, though we know better. The mirror beguiles and warps time, forcing brother and sister to rewatch the mental collapse of their father (Rory Cochrane) and the demise of their mother (Katee Sackhoff of Battlestar Galactica).
Oculus' theme of a daughter trying to avoid the fate of her mother might make this a more interesting horror film than most. Sackhoff carries the weight of the film's pity and perverse sensuality; she's a housewife/captive, in nightgowns and loose housedresses, but she's also a strapping, red-haired woman with a Gothic tattoo on one arm. And Gillan's rapid-fire dialogue and intensity make the daughter a heroine to root for, even if you're not sure she's sane.
'Oculus' opens Friday, April 11, at Boulevard 14 Cinemas, 200 C St., Petaluma. 707.762.7469.