It’s amazing how subjective something like our own reflection can be. In truth, we are only seeing what is standing in front of it – nothing more, nothing less. In our minds though, everything from guilt, to shame, to insecurity, can amplify some details and even distort them in our mind’s eye. The difficult thing is coming to terms with our own reflection.
But what if we can’t trust our own reflection?
Eleven years ago, the Russell family moved into a new home. To celebrate the move, the patriarch of the family Alan (Rory Cochran) buys several new pieces of antique furniture, including a mirror known as The Lassar Glass. It’s shortly after the family gets settled in the new house that strange things start happening. Plants won’t stay alive, the dog seems preoccupied with the mirror in Alan’s office, and the matriarch Marie (Katee Sachoff) feels wildly insecure. Pretty soon, the children Kaylie and Tim are seeing a strange woman in Alan’s office, and being told that their mother is “very sick”.
It all leads to an incident involving both parents being found dead – with all signs pointing to Alan having murdered Marie. However, the children have other ideas. They believe that the mirror caused all of the mayhem, and that night they make a deal to one day find the mirror again and destroy it.
Now in the present, Kaylie (Karen Gillian) works for an auction house and is happily engaged. Tim (Brenton Thwaites) meanwhile was traumatized by the events of that fateful night and has been in psychiatric care ever since. On his 21st birthday – seemingly overcome his demons – Tim is released and reunited with Kaylie. However, the happiness of their reunification is short-lived. It doesn’t take long for Kaylie to tell Tim that she has tracked down The Lassar Glass, and that she wants his help in destroying it the next night.
Despite massive trepidations, Tim agrees. Seemingly going for the full effect, Kaylie sets up the mirror in the house she and Tim once called home – in the very room Alan once used as his office. With multiple cameras and multiple computers set-up to record the event, Kaylie details the sordid history of The Lassar Glass and how 45 people who have come into contact with it have died over the course of almost 500 years. Tonight she has set up an elaborate mousetrap-esque series of failsafes to prevent another incident like the one that afflicted her parents, and destroy The Lassar Glass once and for all.
But you don’t think an evil mirror is going to take such things lying down, do you?
On a surface level, OCULUS doesn’t do anything new. Its characters are fairly one-note, its folklore origins are thin, and none of the cast are acting above their pay grade. It’s not the sort of horror film that will reinvent the genre or spawn a few dozen copycats in the years to come. However, those shortcomings only hold it back from the film becoming something great; in the meantime, even with the shortcomings, what we get is a film that is still very good.
The film’s first great trick is the way it decides to interweave the narrative of the past into the events of the present. Besides the fact that it allows the story to get double the mileage out of its script, it also finds an elegant way to underline what is happening in the present with what happened in the past. It plays upon the notion that when lies are told enough times, the lies can become the truth. Even if the truth is staring us in the face, many of us will end up believing what we want to believe. This forced perspective that many of us deal with will drive us to do a lot of things and believe even more. Does it matter whether or not what we believe is real?
Perception is key in a story like this. How are the characters ever supposed to defeat the demon if they cannot trust what they are seeing? As for us, how are we ever supposed to get a grip on what is real and what’s not if we can’t tell when the characters are being misled, and when we’re looking into the past? It creates uncertainty, and if you’re anything like me, the feeling of uncertainty is even worse than the feeling of certain doom. You’re stuck in a moment of unending questions – losing minutes and even hours to an unending series of “what-if’s”. The fact that the mirror alters the characters’ perception is grisly; the fact that the film alters our perception is clever. In a perfect world a film like this would be in the running for awards for its editing.
What we get when it all comes together is a source of evil that on paper is laughable, but in execution is downright freaky. The Lassar Glass goes from just being “a scary sentient mirror” to a source of evil that screws with people being able to trust what they see in front of their eyes. Despite them not being physically present, we have contained within our own reflections our wants, our regrets, our flaws, and our memories. The idea that our reflection would be able to prey upon these intangible feelings is messed up. It’s bad enough that we see these things when we look in the mirror – I’m not sure we’re ready to handle the mirror being able to see them too.