Big things often begin as something much smaller. Case in point: the 2013 supernatural thriller, Oculus, a critically acclaimed—and profitable—movie that started out as a short film (28 minutes) with the lengthy title of Oculus: Chapter Three—The Man with the Plan. The latter, which you can view on YouTube, generated interest with multiple studios, and its creator, Mike Flanagan, ultimately became the writer and director of the expanded version.
The story is told in both the present and eleven years earlier via multiple flashbacks. To avoid confusion this brief synopsis will be presented in linear time, with no spoiler alert. You do not want the ending to this film revealed until you actually watch it, I kid you not.
THE MIRROR, THEN
Pre-teen siblings Kaylie and Tim move into a new house with their parents, Alan and Marie Russell. We can see they are a close, loving family. Alan has a home-based business and has decorated his office with a large, antique mirror. All is well…for a while.
Little do they know that this Mirror From Hell induces hallucinations. (Later on, we will learn that all of its previous owners murdered others and/or committed suicide.) Alan begins an affair with a beautiful “woman” named Marisol; never mind her creepy, mirror-like eyes. Marie has visions of her body rotting away. The kids, however, seem unaffected by the reach of the mirror.
Soon the parents grow more and more psychotic. Alan hardly comes out of his office, while Marie becomes distant. All the plants in the house die, and the family dog, who had been locked in the office, disappears. When Kaylie, playing outside, sees her father with the “woman” she tells her mother, which sets the parents off at each other’s throats. Marie then tries to kill her children, but Alan chains her to the wall in her room.
Eventually, with no food in the house, Kaylie and Tim realize that their parents are under the spell of the mirror. They try calling for help, but no matter who they phone, the same voice answers and tells them to have their father call tomorrow. They are seriously creeped out, especially after they go to their mom’s room and see her in an animal-like state.
Alan unchains Marie, and they attack the kids. When Marie briefly regains her senses, Alan shoots her. Kaylie and Tim try to break the mirror but soon realize they are only hammering at the wall. Alan, now aware of what he’s doing, puts his gun in Tim’s hands and forces the boy to kill him. Marisol and the mirror’s many other victims appear, and the terrified kids run outside. The police show up and arrest Tim, who will be sent to a mental hospital, but not before Kaylie extracts a promise from him that one day they will destroy the mirror and prove Tim’s innocence. The last thing they see is the mirror-eyed ghosts, including their parents, watching them from Alan’s office window.
THE MIRROR, NOW
Eleven years of counseling has Tim admitting the memories of his parents’ deaths were all in his head, that he alone was responsible for killing them, and accordingly he is being released from the mental hospital. Not so Kaylie (Karen Gillan), who is waiting to pick him up. During her years in foster care, and now, as a young woman, she has traced the long history of the mirror and is convinced that it is evil. The mirror had moved on from the Russell home, but Kaylie, currently employed at an auction house, has reacquired it for a client. She intends to “borrow” it, and she wants Tim to help her make good on their promise to expose and destroy it. Tim, who has moved on, is reluctant to help her, but Kaylie, always the alpha, wins out.
The siblings still own the empty Russell house, untenanted all these years. Kaylie’s obsessive plan has the mirror set up in a room with all sorts of surveillance cameras and recording devices. There are plants all over the house, and her fiancé, Michael, will call every hour so that outside contact can be maintained. The pièce de résistance is an anchor weighted to the ceiling, with a kill switch that will activate it if something goes wrong, or afterward, to swing down and destroy the mirror. Kaylie has thought of everything, though Tim can’t help thinking she’s nuttier than him.
Naturally, things go all to hell. The house plants all wilt, and light bulbs begin exploding, among other incidents. When Kaylie plays back one of the tapes it appears that she and Tim were responsible for the occurrences, though neither one has any memory of doing them. As the incidents intensify Tim is convinced that the mirror is indeed evil, and he urges Kaylie to flee the house. They try, but the mirror will only let them get as far as the front yard before drawing them back. Kaylie tries to call the police but hears the same voice that spoke to her as a child, telling her to have her father call tomorrow.
Back inside, Kaylie sees the rotting corpse of her mother coming toward her. She stabs it in the neck, only to find that she has just killed Michael, her fiancé—a major holy crap! moment…
As mentioned, I will not spoil what follows, but I will say that you won’t be done crying out holy crap! Oculus, with more terror than blood & gore, is one of the better films in a crowded genre.