Saturday, 21 June 2014

Oculus (15)

There's an old adage that there are no original ideas - and that's never more true than the current horror genre.

From endless sequels to found-footage films that stretch the concept to breaking point just to be part of the latest fad, horror films seem to repeatedly plough familiar furrows.

And that's not a criticism. Done well, a good horror film can rip off everything in sight - but you'll care not a jot as you chew your own hand off trying not to scream.

Which brings us to Oculus.

Causing a stir at Frightfest last year, it stars Karen Gillen (of Dr Who fame, and soon to have a whole new army of geeks trailing after her once Guardians Of The Galaxy lands) as Kaylie, a young woman out to get revenge on the thing that may or may not have torn her family apart.

There's a mirror. There's probably someone in the mirror. There's a trail of bad crap a mile long. You can guess the rest.

Part The Grudge, part The Others, it's as generic a horror film as you'll see this year.

But, again, this isn't necessarily a negative.

There are moments that make you leap out of your seat, there are moments that build the tension really well and there are moments of good ol' twists and turns.

It's all fine.

And then there's Ms Gillan.

Now, fans of Dr Who will tell you she's a great actress. In the pantheon of assistants she's top of the list after some captivating performances and one of the best storylines of recent years.

But films are a whole different kettle of ball games, right?

Not to Ms G.

From the get-go she owns this film, commanding in every scene she's in and radiating a presence I've not seen in a while.

And then there's the accent.

If you've seen The Hunt For Red October, say, or Highlander, you would be forgiven for thinking the Scottish accent is a barrier too high for any actor to hurdle.

Not here.

From the moment she starts talking, Gillen's Yank accent is nailed. She's acting with an American cast and if asked to pick the one non-native it's unlikely you'd pick her.

(Yes, I know, this necessitates the person doing the picking not knowing who the hell Karen Gillen is. I get that. No you shut up.)

Away from Karen G's superb, film-stealing performance, there are other juicy bits to get your teeth into.

Splitting between modern day and back when mum and dad had the mirror installed, Oculus balances the two timelines well, with the supporting cast (Rory Cochrane as the dad, Katie Sackhoff as mum and a slightly-overshadowed Brenton Thwaites as brother Tim) all playing their part in heightening the drama, tension and confusion.

A special word as well about Garrett Ryan and Annalise Basso - who play young Kaylie and Tim. For ones so young, they've got the acting chops to deliver the goods.

The effects are good too.

The blood is realistic, it's in your face, and the ghosties are genuinely chilling.

If there's a real problem with Oculus, it's the pacing and final showdown.

While not overly long, by the time we get to the grand finale your attention span is flagging a smidge, and as such the intertwined timelines can confuse slightly where it should be making your head explode.

But that's a small gripe in the scheme of things.

Sure, it won't change your life, but there are worse ways to spend a late night in a darkened cinema...

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