There are horror films that do a great job of regularly scaring the crap out of you, and then there are those that maintain a healthy level of creepiness while also providing a fairly interesting plot, one that doesn't simply take a tried-and-true fright film tactic and rehash it. I'm not sure I completely get what's going in in the Mike (ABSENTIA) Flanagan-directed OCULUS, but I truly dig the way it's executed and the way the parallel stories (set 10 years apart) weave in an out of each other until we have no clue what is past and what is present, what is real and what is an illusion placed in the characters' minds by an evil force that seems to live inside an ornate, antique mirror known as the Lasser Glass.
The film opens with Kaylie (Karen Gillan of "Doctor Who" fame and soon to be seen as Nebula in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY) purchasing the noted mirror at an auction, with a clear agenda in acquiring the item that seems to involve vengeance; at the same time, her brother Tim (Brenton Thwaites from "Home and Away" and the upcoming MALEFICENT) is finally being released from a mental hospital after 10 years being a ward. He's eager to forget or rationalize the things that happened to his sister and him when they were children living in a new home with their parents (played by Katee Sackhoff and Rory Cochrane).
Dad purchased the spooky mirror after mom suggested they bring a few antiques into their home decorating scheme, and he sets it up in his home office, where he spends most of his days. But before long, he ends up not being able to find reasons to leave the room at all, as he sits at his desk and stares into the mirror, mumbling incoherently into the glass. When he is away from it, he's irritable and sometimes downright angry, and he begins to torment his family both mentally and physically. This is all in the past, mind you, shown to us in flashbacks. What is happening in the future is even more interesting, as Kaylie re-occupied the same house, this time with all of the modern supernatural-detection electronics and monitoring devices, so she can measure the mirrors sphere of influence and the nature of its power.
What's a little strange is that Kaylie has documented a great deal of the mirror's history hurting previous owners, but doesn't really try to figure out what is inside making it do this (I'm sure that is being saved for the inevitable sequel/prequel). And it seems a little cruel of her to drag her emotionally fragile brother into a situation that is almost guaranteed to make him unstable again, but she does it anyway, and he spends a great deal of the film trying to throw out rational explanations for strange behavior and their twisted memories from of childhood events.
One of the most fascinating things about OCULUS is the structure of the second half of the film which braids current events with the traumatic things happening to the family 10 years earlier. Often the adult characters will cross paths with their younger selves (played by Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan) because strikingly similar things are happening to both. But the mirror never stops manipulating their minds, making them think they are seeing and doing things that they later discover didn't appear or happen. A sequence involving mistaking a light bulb for a tasty apple is pretty awful and awesome. Thinking she can outsmart the mirror, Kaylie has even set up a system of timers connected to a device that will attempt to destroy the mirror—and as we learn, the mirror has an interesting way of defending itself.
As I alluded to earlier, the only real issue with OCULUS is that it's not especially scary, which isn't really a problem unless your only goal in watching the film is to get scared. If you actually want to experience something a little different in this genre, this is a solid attempt to warp your brain a bit and freak you out a little bit more. I'm not saying the film is scare-free, but making you jump in your seats doesn't seem to be its primary agenda. Putting none of my praise aside, I would like to add that I have no desire to see a sequel to OCULUS. This is a worthy one-shot film to which a backstory or further mirror terrorizing would add nothing but disappointment. I'd advise the filimmakers to move on and find new and original ways to make our skin craw. You did an admirable job here; don't ruin it.