‘Oculus’ is one of those movies that reflect a deep disconnect between professional movie critics and the movie-going audience. This indie, R-rated and low-budget psychological shocker starring BSG’s Katie Sackhoff earned a 72% ‘Fresh’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus that: “With an emphasis on dread over gore and an ending that leaves the door wide open for sequels, 'Oculus' could be just the first spine-tingling chapter in a new franchise for discerning horror fans." Regardless, its Audience rating is a lackluster 56% and Cinemascore gave it an even worse grade of ‘C,’ proving that movie watchers have no clue what a good horror movie looks like, right?
Wrong. ‘Oculus’ is as limp and futile an exercise in suspense-building and horror filmmaking as I’ve seen in quite a while. The subject of the movie is a not-so-scary antique mirror which purportedly has the ability to alter people’s behavior and twist their perception of reality. However, the movie shifts so much and so confusingly between reality and what is merely perceived as ‘real’ by the movie’s two main characters, the brother and sister who try to prove that the mirror is the culprit that caused their dad to murder their mom 10 years ago while they were kids, that I stopped caring which is which halfway into the movie. 'Oculus' also recycles horror movie tropes. The flashback scenes portraying the father’s descent into madness took a page right out of Jack Nicholson’s character in ‘The Shining,’ and the siblings’ elaborate set-up to ‘outsmart’ the mirror borrowed heavily from recent 'documentary horror' such as ‘Paranormal Activity’ and ‘The Conjuring.’
These transgressions might have been forgiven if writer-cum-director Mike Flanagan managed to make Kaylie and Tim Russell remotely relatable or likeable, but they're such grating personalities that it is all but impossible to even minimally invest in them sympathetically. The siblings constantly bicker and second-guess each other throughout the movie, and rather than being paralyzed with fear or suspense I find myself paralyzed with mind-numbing apathy instead. When the ‘shocker’ of an ending finally occurred, it actually came as something of a relief.