I checked out your resume on IMDB before I started writing this letter to you. If there’s something to be said about the movie business, persistence and being able to outlast your rivals are some of the key factors to success (or so people keep telling me). You’ve been around since the late 70s as both an actor and editor, with some work in visual effects too. I’m assuming you rode the wave of TV acting gigs through the 80s to pay the bills, when the game was played a little differently than it is today. There’s nothing wrong with that. It shows that you’ve been able to change gears along the way and managed to find yourself a way to hold onto a career in the sometimes topsy-turvy world of moving pictures.
I didn’t know much about Oculus when I walked into the theatre. It looked interesting from some previews, and I’m a sucker for well done, dare I say, intelligent horror movies. It’s hard to believe they even make it through the production process these days. But, I feel people are somewhat tired of the same-old, found-footage-torture-porn-blood-bath, extravaganzas that are made for what seems to be approaching zero dollars, with no talent and limited set constructions. Just because you can make cheap, doesn’t mean it has to be cheap.
Oculus doesn’t look cheap. I liked the fact that it appears to be from a simpler time in horror’s reign, but it’s definitely not a simple movie. Even though it appears to be on a tight budget - lesser known actors, limited locations - it tells a complicated story of a family’s past and present with an extremely temperamental mirror that doesn’t get along well with it’s owners. Okay, so the story is a little slow getting started, but it moves along nicely after we understand what’s happening.
So, sister and brother team, Tim and Kaylie Russell (played by Brandon Thwaites and Karen Gillan), witness some horrific family violence as their younger selves (played by Garrett Ryan and Annalise Basso). In the aftermath, while Tim went to an asylum, Kaylie presumably led a somewhat normal life on the outside, but plagued by the fact that the mirror her father purchased possessed her family, she becomes obsessed with getting close to it again to destroy it.
No easy feat, that. On the very eve of her brother’s release years later, she picks him up and brings him back to their childhood home. She’s made a number of strategic moves to line everything up, just so. House : check. Mirror: check. All kinds of recording devices from various angles: check. She’s determined to make sure that she does the job right this time. She’s obsessed. Her brother thinks she’s the crazy one now. Complications ensue.
Now, I don’t usually notice “editing” in movies, but I did in Oculus. It’s the way the multi-story timelines, dual characters, and clever visuals are weaved together by the director Mike Flanagan, with your fingerprints, presumably, on them somewhere, Tony, helping Mike achieve his vision.
Editing a mashup of both the present and the past can be tricky, though, and while Oculus achieves some nice transitions, it also suffers, at times, from some choppiness. But I can live with choppy if the story is compelling. At times, though, I actually had to stop and wonder if what I’d seen actually happened or if I only remembered it they way it was delivered through the recording devices. I’m not sure about you, but nothing should step me so far out of a movie as to break my suspension of disbelief. I was with you, and then I was out. I couldn’t really recover from that.
So, although initially well done – and perhaps with some deeper intentions to screw with the audience –you eventually lost me. Too bad. Because Oculus creates a unique style and a genuinely creepy tone so rare in today’s horror genre. And it’s all the more impressive for the multiple roles director/writer/editor role Mike Flanagan takes on.
Overall though, while it strives to achieve the effectiveness of The Conjuring, a kindred spirit in emphasizing mood and dread over gore and shock, Oculus doesn’t quite get where it wants to go.
Thanks, Tony, for helping bring Mike’s vision to life.
Next time, just deliver the goods.