Review by Daniel Burden
Ever heard of the concept of Chekov’s Gun? It’s a dramataic idea, “Remove everything that has
no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in
the second or third chapter, it absolutely must go off”
I’m not just starting off this review with a literary trope just to sound clever. I never sound clever.
But in Oculus, very near to the beginning of the story, there is a massive smoking Chekov’s
Gun, and the principal holds steady. The object in question is not the haunted mirror which
plagues the film but a large weighted hammer/axe mounted on the ceiling designed to destroy
the evil mirror if anything goes wrong.
Can you guess what might happen?
I think you can. And this is a sign of the major issues with a film I desperately wanted to like.
Oculus is an original horror film. Not a remake or sequel or reboot. And it should absolutely be
applauded for that, because we don’t get all that many these days, and even when we do, they
inevitably end up being part of a franchise which in of itself, kills any and all originality by the
And it’s about an evil mirror. No, really. Now mirrors are a pretty good horror film ingredient
at the best of times, always showing and frightening the viewer with something the central
character can’t see, but this time, it is actively involved, the mirror is our monster. That’s
different. I’m surprised Stephen King hasn’t done it already.
The film begins with young siblings Kaylie and Tim, as this ‘frankly creepy and why oh why
would you ever bring that into your house’ mirror begins to exort some form of supernatural
control over both their mother and father in different ways. This story is told in parallel with the
modern day versions of Tim, who has just been released from a psychiatric facility for shooting
his father, and Kaylie who seems to have her life pretty much perfect.
Except that she doesn’t. Tim appears to be the sane one, as Kaylie has found the evil mirror
that drove her parents insane, and intends to conduct experiments on it, find out what makes it
tick and then hopefully find a way to destroy it.
Oculus takes an interesting concept and some genuinely disturbing moments and then boils
them down to you the viewer shaking your head and yelling at the characters on screen for
being so bloody stupid. Because you know from the aforementioned Chekov’s Gun of the
weighted death hammer, that this isn’t going to go well.
There is some measure of explanation for the ghostly goings on, which is personified in the
creepy woman called Marisol, whose eyes are mirrors, which is far creepier to see on screen
than I can describe. And boy, one scene involving a lightbulb and apple, that will stay with you
long after the rest of the film. There are many tense moments, and a terrific central performance
from former Doctor Who star Karen Gillan as Kaylie, but from the first few minutes, you know
exactly what is going to happen. The originality quickly bleeds dry and it feels poorly executed
towards the end, as if they had the ending, and just wrote a very average way of getting us to
it. If you’re a horror fan (or indeed a Karen Gillan fan) there is still plenty to enjoy. But it all feels
like a great missed opportunity to me.
Oculus is in cinemas now.