Oculus is a 2013 American supernatural psychological horror film written and directed by Mike Flanagan, starring Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Rory Cochrane & Katee Sackoff.
The film had its world premiere on September 5, 2013, at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and received a wide theatrical release on April 11, 2014.
| Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about|
the entire movie.
The film takes place in two different times: the present and 11 years earlier. The two plot lines are told in parallel through flashbacks with many cuts occurring between corresponding actions in each time frame.
In 2002, software engineer Alan Russell moves into a new house with his wife Marie, 10-year-old son Tim, and 12-year-old daughter Kaylie. Alan purchases an antique mirror to decorate his office. Unknown to them, the mirror is malevolent and supernaturally induces hallucinations in both adults; Marie is haunted by visions of her own body decaying while Alan is seduced by a ghostly woman named Marisol, who has mirrors in place of eyes.
Over time, the parents become psychotic; Alan increasingly isolates himself in his office, and Marie becomes withdrawn and paranoid. During the same period, all of the plants in the house die, and the family dog disappears after being shut in the office with the mirror.
After Kaylie sees Alan interact with Marisol, she tells her mother. Marie and her husband fight, and one night while he's away, she sees herself bleeding from an old scar in the mirror. She goes insane and attempts to kill her children, but Alan overpowers her and later says the children are not to visit their mother who is unwell.
When the family runs out of food, the children try to get help from their father. They figure their father is under the influence of the mirror and gives the same responses to all Kaylie's questions, so Kaylie goes to seek help from their mother, despite her father's warning to not visit her 'sick' mother.
When she sees how her father has chained her mother to the wall and how her mother acts like an animal, she and Tim attempt to seek help from their neighbors, who disbelieve their stories. Attempting to contact doctors or the authorities, Kaylie discovers that all of her phone calls are answered by the same man, who admonishes her to speak with her father.
One night, Alan unchains Marie, and both parents attack the children. Marie briefly comes to her senses only to be shot dead by Alan. The children try to destroy the mirror with golf clubs but fail in the attempt, believing they are hitting the mirror but only hitting the wall.
Alan corners the children in his office, but also experiences a moment of lucidity during which he kills himself by using his thumb to force Tim's finger against the trigger of the gun Tim is pointing at Alan.
Ignoring their father's last advice to "run", the children see Marisol and various previous victims of the mirror appear as horrific ghosts. The police arrive and take Tim into custody. Before the siblings are separated, they promise to reunite as adults and destroy the mirror. As Tim is taken away in the back of a squad car he sees the ghosts of his parents watching him from the house.
Eleven years later, Tim is discharged from a psychiatric hospital, having come to believe that there were no supernatural events involved in his parents' deaths. Kaylie, meanwhile, has spent most of her young adulthood researching the history of the mirror. Using her position as an employee of an auction house, Kaylie obtains access to the mirror and has it transported to the family home where she places it in a room filled with surveillance cameras and a "kill switch"—an anchor weighted to the ceiling and set to a timer. Kaylie intends to destroy the mirror but first wants to document its powers, prove its supernatural nature, and thus vindicate her family.
Tim joins Kaylie at the house and after Kaylie presents much of her research about deaths associated with the mirror's owners he attempts to convince her that she's mistaking correlation with causation in an attempt to rationalize their parents' deaths as being caused by an external force.
The siblings argue and while perceiving no gaps in their conversation they notice the houseplants begin to wilt and upon reviewing camera footage they see themselves having performed complex actions they have no recollection of.
Tim finally accepts that the mirror has some diabolical power and attempts to escape the house with Kaylie, only for the pair to be repeatedly drawn back by the mirror's influence.
They try to call the police, but are only able to reach the same voice who spoke to them on the phone as children. Seeing a hallucination of her deceased mother Kaylie stabs it in the neck with a plate shard only for her to see her fiancé stabbed in the same place and quickly die.
Kaylie is convinced it can't be him because when she looked at the floor through her phone's video camera there were no plate shards visible: no plate implies no stabbing. However, when she looks at the corpse through her phone camera she sees his corpse and is then convinced she has killed him. The pair begin to hallucinate and experience visions of everyone killed by the mirror.
As the two timelines merge, Kaylie and Tim begin to interact with their younger selves. Younger Kaylie is drawn to the mirror by an image of her mother beckoning to her; at the same time, Tim as an adult hallucinates that he is alone in the room with the mirror. Tim activates the kill switch which causes the anchor to descend and fatally impale a mirror-obscured adult Kaylie whom Tim then sees.
The police arrive and arrest a hysterical Tim just as they had arrested him when he was younger. As both a boy and adult, Tim claims the mirror is responsible. As he is taken away, the older Tim sees Kaylie's ghost in the house with his parents and remembers their promise that they will destroy the mirror no matter what.
- Karen Gillan as Kaylie Russell
- Annalise Basso as 12-year-old Kaylie Russell
- Brenton Thwaites as Tim Russell
- Garrett Ryan as 10-year-old Tim Russell
- Rory Cochrane as Alan Russell
- Katee Sackhoff as Marie Russell
- James Lafferty as Michael Dumont
- Miguel Sandoval as Dr. Graham
- Kate Siegel as Marisol Chavez
The film is based on Flanagan's earlier 2005 short horror film (which was also called "Oculus".) The short contained only one setting, a single actor, and a mirror. The short became highly acclaimed, and interest quickly arose regarding the adaptation of the short into a feature.
Initially, studios were interested in making the film in accordance with the found footage genre; however, Flanagan was opposed to this and passed on such offers. Eventually, Intrepid Pictures expressed interest in producing the film "as long as you don't do it found footage".
Expanding the premise to a feature-length screenplay proved challenging, as Flanagan felt like he had "pushed the limit" of what could be done with the premise in the short. The solution Flanagan came across was to combine two storylines, past and present, intercut with one another.
The idea was to "create a sense of distortion and disorientation that would be similar for the viewer as it was for Tim and Kaylie in the room."
In early drafts, it was difficult to distinguish between the two timelines, until the team hit upon the idea of writing all of the scenes from the past in italics.
Inspired by the stories of H. P. Lovecraft, Flanagan chose to not explain the mirror's origins, describing to Den of Geek that he liked how Lovecraftian literature often seemed to be an "alien force that if you even were to try to comprehend it completely it would drive you mad." He expanded: "Evil in the world doesn't have an answer."
On October 27, 2012, filming wrapped in Fairhope, Alabama, after three weeks.
"Oculus" was first released on September 5, 2013 at the 2013 TIFF & received a worldwide theatrical release on April 11, 2014.
The film was released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc on August 5, 2014.
Released in the United States on April 11, 2014, "Oculus" grossed $4,966,899 on its opening day, nearly equaling its production budget of $5 million.
As of October 3, 2014, the film has taken in an estimated $27,695,246 at the North American box office and another $16,335,000 internationally for a worldwide total of $44,030,246.
Critical reception for "Oculus" has been positive and the film holds a rating of 73% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 133 reviews with the consensus stating: "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".
It holds a score of 61 on Metacritic, signifying "generally favorable reviews."
Shock Till You Drop gave Oculus a positive review, stating that it was "smart and scary stuff".
Film School Rejects gave a mixed review and stated that it was "well-acted, looks quite good, and manages some moments of entertainment, but as the minutes tick by it grows weaker and weaker until its final cheat is designed to allow for a shocker ending."