Oculus : Review by Daniel Burden

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.

Belle : Review by Barry Cox

Review by Barry Cox  

Belle (2013)

Cast: Gugu-Mbatha-Raw, Tom Wilkinson, Sam Reid, Emily Watson

Dir: Amma Asante

Certification: 12A

Release Date: 13th June 2014 (UK)

I am not really a fan of period dramas, so it’s best I get that out the way now. However, I didn’t allow my narrow-mindedness to affect what I hope is an impartial review. So, here it is.

Dido Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is the illegitimate child of John Lindsay (Matthew Goode), a good honest man, and a Captain in Royal Navy. It is in the opening moments of the film we see father and daughter meeting for the first time after the death of her mother, a wonderfully cherished moment that really sets up the emphasis of the film. Realising that a ship is no place for a young black girl, the Captain heads for England, where his great uncle, William Murray (Tom Wilkinson); the 1st Earl of Mansfield, and Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales resides with his wife, Lady Mansfield, (Emily Watson).

With the Captain bound to his duties, he leaves young Dido to be taken care of by his family. Needless to say, an aristocratic family, with deep ties in politics and society alike, having an illegitimate child dumped on their doorstep is fragile enough, but a black girl at that, makes matters even more formidable.


The story of the titular character is based around historical fiction. Inspired by the 1779 painting by an unknown artist (long thought to have been by Johann Zoffany), which now hangs at Scone Palace, Scotland. A beautiful piece of art, although it’s an audacious premise for a big screen adaptation.


We continue to follow the story as the girl becomes a young woman. A sharp, and intelligent individual who is fast learning the ways of the world, all whilst being sheltered from it by her great uncle, yet he is unable protect her from all things, especially matters of the heart.

Her introduction to John Davinier (Sam Reid) is sure sign of where the story will go, a little too obvious, perhaps? Davinier, a prodigious law student and pro-abolitionist, who has his sights set on changing the world. Davinier, who is clearly fighting for the affection of Dido, becomes embattled with her uncle, over the case of the Zong. A ship carrying human cargo as its trade, when it claims to have run out of drinking water and then had to sacrifice its cargo before making it to its destination. The two are at logger-heads over the case, Lord Mansfield, clearly bound by his duties as Chief Justice, to ensure that justice is done, and Davinier who clearly has an emotional attachment to the case, is pushing for a more long term solution for the destitute. Many a great scene in the film comes when Wilkinson and Reid share the screen. The quick-witted, and sharp-tongued dialogue between one another, make for a fascinating watch and gives a sense of genuine elation.

Filmed on location in the Isle of Man, London and Oxford, the film is a mix of sorts, a coming of age drama, a race story and one of social inequities. All set in the 18th Century.

Shot on 4K camera by Ben Smithard (The Damned United, My Week with Marilyn) he captures the beauty in a time filled with horror and exploitation. The design and look of the film is certainly very candid on the eye and the costumes are as you’d expect from a period drama, lavishly created and they each character looks divine. Topped off with a simple, yet not to punctuated score by Rachel Portman (Chocolat, The Cider House Rules), it flows throughout with eloquence.

In summary, Amma Asante’s Belle leaves its mark. A very profound film with a story that hits the right notes. The performances are sincere and impressive, and whilst we have seen recent films look at slavery, this one is more reigned in and less grand in terms of scale, but quite opulent in its execution. I did feel that the scale of the film, whilst it is a profound and worthy tale, it would have been better suited to a mini-series on the small screen, not because the story isn’t going to find its core demographic on the silver screen, just that it will be rather limited, nonetheless, it definitely deserves your attention..

Movies Sight Unseen by Scott Ballantyne

By Scott Ballantyne  


Now I love watching movies, and while I cannot claim to have seen every movie ever, I have seen

quite a few (at least between 10-15).

Not seeing every movie ever, got me thinking about how people who had never seen a certain film

would describe it, sight unseen.

The following are the first in what I hope will be an ongoing column called ‘I’ve not seen it but…’

The Silence of the Lambs

A farmer’s struggle to deal with the outbreak of ‘Foot and Mouth’ disease, sees him slowly driven

insane and his marriage fall apart. A harrowing ‘real life’ drama starring Anthony Hopkins and Jodie


RoyGoodbye Mr Chips


Irish comedian ‘Roy ‘Catchprase’ Walker falls into a drink and drugs hell after the cancellation of his

game show in the early 90’s.



What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?

Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio star as two brothers. One has contracted the deadly Ebola

virus. The other brother struggles to come to terms with the illness.

The Fast and the Furious

A Muslim family are at war with each other during Ramadan, as the teenage children do not want to

take part in the traditional fast. Their parents are very angry. Cultural comedy followed by a never

ending series of sequels, all with the same storyline.

cashTango & Cash

Documentary with recently found footage of Johnny Cash trying to film a TV commercial in the early

80’s for a well-known UK soft drink..

Rosetta (1999) : Review

Review by Marcus Zizzou  

The Lowdown     Directed by J.P Dardenne/L.Dardenne

                               Lead Actress Emile Dequenne

                                Run Time 95 mins


rosetta-review The Brief    : Desperate Rosetta looks for work, hope and an escape from her Precariat upbringing.

 Rosetta first and foremost is a fabulous film. It was the Winner of the Palme d’or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1999.The Film begins with Rosetta being fired from work and continues with her struggles to find employment and live a normal life, a different one than the Caravan Park that her and her alcoholic Mother live on. Alone and hardened with the stresses and strains of literally trying to keep her head above water. She is determined and almost feral like in her nature. It’s obvious her upbringing has been difficult. Emile Dequenne who portrays Rosetta was a complete unknown but walked away with the Best Actress Award at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival. It’s such a natural performance that’s flawless. As the film unwinds her desperation leads to a surprising moral dilemma for the viewer whether to continue to root for the protagonist? The Dardennes ‘pull the rug’ under you to set you off kilter and this sets up the Third Act perfectly. It’s shot with Hand Held Cameras and gets you right up close to Rosetta which at first I found distracting but gives you the full facial emotions of her unknowingly pretty face. There is no score, just the sounds of Rosetta’s surroundings and her constant marching from location to location in search of a job,food and a happier existence. The ending is ambiguous and I must admit I saw it differently to some after researching the film. Rosetta isn’t a fast paced film, but its gripping, with a grim reality of life, and leaves you mulling over social issues and her plight.

The Verdict    A-

If you this film try Dardennes L’Enfant