Oculus ★★★★

Well this was really a treat, and for more reasons than one. Not only is Oculus one of the freshest, most interesting horror films I've seen in a while, it was also really a pleasure to watch because it was filmed in Fairhope, Alabama, the town where I grew up. On top of that, the house that it takes place in is maybe four or five houses down from my best friend's house; I've driven past it more times than I can count. And to put the icing on the cake, a few very close friends designed and built and built the haunted mirror. I even helped paint one of the sets and built a few prop anchor heads out of foam board, so I guess I could say that I have a few ties to this film.

That being said, my praise doesn't come from bias. I can happily and genuinely say that writer and director Mike Flanagan delivers a smart, engaging and original film that's currently my pick for best horror film of 2014. Oculus's strength doesn't come from its premise (a pair of siblings trying to prove that a haunted mirror was responsible for the death of their parents), but from its execution. Flanagan edits his films himself, a tactic that I admire, and it really gives him the most control in bringing his vision to the screen. In Oculus, he does this with a cerebral shifting between past and present. Tim and Kaylie's flashbacks to their childhood eventually start to mirror and meld with their present, eventually reaching peak where reality and memory are almost indistinguishable. Combined with a chilling score and some really nice, subtle scares, Oculus is a film to keep viewers on their toes. It's not particularly violent and it has a thankfully minimal number of cheap jump scares, but it's scary nonetheless. It's a film that provides its sense of dread through atmosphere and psychological terror. The mirror doesn't kill through direct physical violence, but through madness. And really, what's more terrifying than not being able to trust your own mind?

It's films like Oculus that give me hope for the horror genre. It's so refreshing to see an original approach to horror, one that embraces current tropes and uses them in new ways, and one that pays fond homage to its inspirations rather than mimicking them or making overblown references. It's certainly put Flanagan on my radar as a director to keep an eye on in the future. If he keeps up what he's doing, he could well become one of the masters of modern horror.

Before signing off, I'd just like to say congratulations to my friends Bruce and Brock Larsen, and William Legg for all their great work on this film. They have something to be proud of.

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