I don’t watch a lot of horror films but a few years ago my interest in a certain TV show lead me to go and see Sarah Michelle Gellar in The Grudge. It wasn’t too grizzly and was really just a standard haunted house movie, but it was effectively done and I was terrified. Reports of me screaming like a girl during the film are completely exaggerated but it did spook me and I couldn’t look at my reflection in a window for a week (if you’ve seen the film you’ll know why).
A similar motivation has now taken me to see Oculus only this time the actor is Karen Gillan, known to millions of children and science fiction fans (and their parents/partners) as Amy Pond from Doctor Who.
The first truly significant companion since Billie Piper’s Rose, Amy was petulant, moody, demanding and stubborn but also funny, loyal, brave and adorable, especially when playing off Arthur Darvill as her husband Rory. Unlike a lot of the performers made famous by Doctor Who though, Gillan looks set to use the show as a springboard to a successful film and television career.
This is a slightly lower profile film than next month’s Guardians of the Galaxy, in which she appears as blue skinned, bald headed bad girl Nebula, but it will certainly help establish her as a substantial big screen presence.
The set up in Oculus is not particularly original, there is a ghost inside a mirror which is playing with people’s minds and making them do bad things. Like The Grudge though, it takes a staple horror conceit and builds a compelling film around it. When Gillan’s Kaylie and her brother Tim (Brenton Thwaites, Maleficent’s Prince Charming) were kids their parents had the mirror in the house and as a result went totally and murderously bonkers. Now, eleven years later Kaylie has got hold of the same mirror and is intending to prove that it is possessed. Cue a lot of psychological shenanigans and confusion between what is real, what is imagined and what is their past coming back to haunt them.
Oculus has something over other memorable scary movies I have seen, like The Grudge and The Woman in Black, in that it is quite clever. That isn’t to say that either of those films were dumb, particularly not the Susan Hill adaptation, but they concentrated a lot more on the creepy images and ideas and only required enough story to hold these together. Oculus is very clever in the way it weaves together the events of the past and the present. It also has not just one back story but several (at one point it spends ten minutes pitching its own prequels) and while the end is not very surprising, the journey there does not always go how you expect it to.
The flip side of that is that it’s not that frightening. That doesn’t mean it didn’t make me jump but no (manly) yelling this time. Obviously it is tricky to measure how unsettling something is in a way that will be effective for everyone but it’s more scary than The X-Files and less than Halloween. I would compare it to things like Pan’s Labyrinth, The Orphanage or Let The Right One In. In fact, with you never quite knowing what’s real and what’s not until after the events it is quite reminiscent of Black Swan. The film it most reminded me of though was the excellent Triangle but I suspect that not enough of you have seen that film for this to be a help.
If you are looking for something eerie and entertaining then I say give it a go. If you are just looking for what Karen did next then I’d say that’s a perfectly good reason to go too.
Is this one for the kids?
Of course not, did you not just catch me comparing it to Pan’s Labyrinth. It has children in it who have to confront a sudden realisation of there behind strange and supernatural powers in the world but it’s no Mary Poppins.
The Ripley Factor:
– Do the female characters exist only to define or motivate men?
– Are the women in the film believable as real people?
– Are women objectified in a way that does not balance with the treatment of men in the film?
– Does the inclusion of the women in the film feel like tokenism?
No, yes, no and no which are exactly the four answers you want from those questions. There are some shots of Karen Gillan’s legs which won’t be anything unfamiliar to fans of Doctor Who.
Traditionally Horror films were not the place to go if you wanted to see strong female role models, what with all the screaming, running up stairs and hiding in cupboards. The Ring changed things a little though and more often than not we now get lead women showing incredible fortitude, ingenuity and resilience. Oculus is no exception to that rule.