Oculus Early Screening Review

3 Apr

20140316042141!Oculus

{Half of this is a rant, skip to the bold if you just want the Oculus review!}

There’s something great about going to the movies. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes nothing is better than curling up in bed and watching a movie in the privacy of your bedroom (no pants required!), but midnight screenings and pre-showings are my bread and butter. There is usually a great sense of community and camaraderie.

This is not the case, apparently, at a Reddit-sponsored screening. While this is no reflection of the movie itself I have quite literally never had a worse experience than the Reddit pre-screening of Oculus. There were a set number of seats, and only that number of tickets were given out. So if you have a ticket you get a seat, right? WRONG. Half the theater (literally) was saving a seat “for a friend.” It took a very, very long time for me to actually find someplace to sit, and I didn’t get to sit with the person I came with. Even though I was maybe the 30th person on line?

When I DID get a seat I was stuck between the two people you don’t want to be next to at a movie: the talker and the elbower. I can get over elbowing (I’m tiny, scrunch yourself up and voila! out of elbow range), but the talker. My goodness. This woman talked LITERALLY THE ENTIRE MOVIE. “Is that his sister? Are they in the past? Oh, how did it turn back into an apple?! Ohhh I forgot my glasses. I can’t see! What’s happening? Wait, is he gonna kill her? Are they all dead?” Hilariously, she had no concept of the plot (no, they’re not all dead, no, they’re not time travelers, no, items aren’t literally morphing into other things…). It was like sitting next to a small child! Only the child was eating stinky stew she snuck in, had bags piled literally on my feet, and smelled awful.

And for some reason (probably because the Reddit hivemind is above liking anything), it was an antagonistic crowd, something I’ve never experienced at a movie. Constant laughter, yelling, booing, giggling. It was a strange experience, horribly unpleasant, but not even grumpy dudebros could spoil Oculus for me.

Oculus

Thus begins the actual review! I love horror movies, but I’m pretty picky about them. There are few modern ones I actually like. My conditions for a good horror movie are strict: good atmosphere, a significantly scary Big Bad, an awesome soundtrack and lighting, clever camera angles, at least one strong female character, absolutely no sexual violence, and at least one person has to die. Like come on, horror movies without death are dull. I’m looking at you, The Conjuring. My strict “no sexual violence but I need death AND a strong (aka well rounded–she doesn’t have to be a warrior, just not a cardboard cutout) female character” often leave me left out in the cold. You don’t get a whole lot of it. The Descent, Sinister, Grave Encounters, and The Ward qualify (along with, surprisingly, Dread, which is criminally underrated). Insidious is close but the monster is goofy at the end. Paranormal Activity didn’t wow me. Anything Rob Zombie gets knocked out for obvious reasons–along with things like Hostel, The Hills Have Eyes, et cetera.

Oculus fits all the criteria. Karen Gillian is vibrant and fierce, the set design and lighting is spectacular, there’s enough cringe-worthy gore for you to believe that everyone is at risk all the time, the atmosphere is pure madness. There’s an element of delirium–you never know just what is going to come next. The movie plays out over two time periods: the past and the present, with both intertwining elegantly. It’s smart horror, like The Woman in Black in a modern setting with a lot more blood. And fingernails.

They do an excellent job of setting up what the mirror is capable of early on without actually revealing what it is: you know the rules, which of course is critical to understanding the trippy narrative this movie winds up to. Note: if you are talking to yourself the entire time, you probably won’t follow along that well. I’m looking at you, crazy bag lady sitting next to me.

The fingerprints of Paranormal Activity and Insidious are all over Oculus: there are camera footage tricks, hordes of creepy ghost people, the sense that no one is who they seem to be (or could turn at any time). But it evens out many of their flaws: Paranormal Activity is ponderously slow until the finale (and its sequels get more and more ridiculous: haunted Xbox!), and Insidious goes from fantastic to “why is he being chased by Darth Maul?” By keeping the pacing constantly intense but the monster out of sight (and more grounded on human anatomy) you aren’t constantly jerked out of the narrative.

But since there is no such thing as a perfect movie (except for Sinister, my precious baby), Oculus is not without a few flaws. The acting of Brenton Thwaites, who plays grown-up Tim, is nowhere near as good as Karen Gillian’s. He’s flat next to her, and it shows–especially near the end, when the emotional tension is at a peak. And the soundtrack leaves me wanting. You need a good soundtrack. Look at The Omen! What do we all remember from that movie? Okay, we remember the head getting sliced off by a pane of glass. But also the amazing music.  Oculus‘ is just so-so. For me, a truly perfect horror movie has to have a soundtrack like Sinister or Suspiria, one that I want to listen to in my spare time and sends tingles down my spine.

But the good outweighs the bad by far. I adored Oculus. But my opinions tend to be different from the masses, so I expect it to get panned. Like The Woman in Black, sob. However, early crowd reviews are coming back pretty positive (except for grumpy Reddit crowd, grumble grumble)! This looks like it is going to be a good month for horror: The Quiet Ones is coming out on the 25th, and not even my extreme fear of exorcisms will keep me from that!

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