★★★☆☆Oculus (2013), the latest chiller from Salem-born director Mike Flanagan, began life as a short back in 2006. It went on to be widely-praised in horror circles, and now he has adapted into a feature-length supernatural chiller about a pair of siblings that believe that a haunted antique mirror is responsible for their parents' deaths. Split over two time lines, we first meet the Russell siblings in the present day. Tim Russell (Brenton Thwaites) has recently been released from a psychiatric institute on the eve of his 21st birthday and is reunited with his sister, Kaylie (Karen Gillan). Tim spent the past decade incarcerated following the death of his mother and father (Katee Sackhoff and Rory Cochrane).
Like so many horror films before it, Oculus' domestic bliss quickly transforming into a nightmarish situation. A wily spirit from the mirror quickly seduces Kaylie's spouse Alan (Rory Cochrane), turning him against his wife and children. These moments riff on the idea domesticity disturbed, where underlying psychological issues are manifested as paranormal phenomenon. Flanagan's best move is to play with our expectations, where we are never quite sure what is actually is real and what is supernatural. Despite its strong hook, the film does spin out of control under the weight of its own internal logic. We oscillate between the siblings' perspectives, with Kaylie's desperate attempts to expose "the truth" by setting up a myriad of cameras, sensors and even using a French bulldog a test subject, balanced by her brother's scepticism, constantly trying to convince his sister that their father was responsible for the death of their mother. Oculus rattles along well regardless, building towards a grim and satisfying crescendo.