The same line of thinking is involved with this weekend's "Oculus," which we first saw back at SXSW --it's the tale of a pair of adult siblings (Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites) who confront the haunted mirror that was responsible for a seismic family tragedy many years earlier. Yes, that sounds like a very silly horror movie. But sometimes, in the words of George Michael, you've got to have faith.
But does "Oculus" actually bring it? Or does it leave you screaming... for more?
1. It's Scary as Hell
Seriously. This is one of those movies that I kind of want to go watch again this weekend just to see it with an audience full of jumpy strangers. I was squirming almost the entire movie -- and for good reason. This is an old-fashioned, scare-you-silly experience built not on jump scares or excessive gore, but on lengthy, suspenseful set pieces rooted in a relatable emotional truth. What's so amazing about the haunted mirror in the movie isn't the fact that it wants to kill you, exactly, but it wants to destroy your life in the most painful way possible. And that's even worse. "Oculus" is one of those movies that restores your faith in horror movies... If only for a minute.
2. Karen Gillan Is Ready to Be a Movie Star
Some people might know who Karen Gillan is, particularly if you're a fan of the cult British series "Doctor Who." But I had no real idea who she was -- and I had met her before (only then she was covered in make-up and virtually unrecognizable). As the tough older sister in "Oculus," she makes a stand, outlining a plan to destroy the mirror in meticulous detail. She puts on this steely façade but she's still racked with guilt and pain over what happened to her family in the past, and has allowed herself to open up, at least for a bit, to her fiancé. But she is still that scarred little kid. It's a pretty miraculous performance, especially for such a limited amount of screen time. Gillan, with her perfectly calibrated American accent and swinging ponytail, is a performer that needs to be watched.
3. The Kids Are Great
More than half the movie, I'd imagine, is devoted to a lengthy flashback to the first time the kids encountered this cursed mirror. In this section, the lead characters are played by amazing child actors Garrett Ryan and Annalise Basso, perfectly inhabiting the same emotional space and physicality as their adult counterparts. What's so incredible is how much of the movie rests on their tiny shoulders (and how well they pull off the complex emotions required of them). Whoever these kids are, expect big things.
4. Get Ready for the Apple Scene
That's all we'll say. It's going to be one of those classic horror movie scenes. So be prepared.
5. Even Though It's a Jason Blum Movie, Don't Expect Any Found Footage
Jason Blum, who has overseen everything from "Paranormal Activity" to the brilliant "Creep" (which was picked up earlier this week by Weinstein/Radius), is Hollywood's premiere horror movie producer. And most of his movies follow a certain aesthetic -- commonly referred to as "found footage." But this was an acquisition title and, even though Gillan's character sets up a number of video cameras to record the supernatural phenomena (and even addresses the camera directly), there is no trace of that particular aesthetic. This is classic haunted house stuff. Or rather, haunted mirror.
6. It's Nice to See Katee Sackhoff and Rory Cochrane Get a Shot
Katee Sackhoff, who played Starbuck on the popular reboot of "Battlestar Galactica," and Rory Cochrane, a longtime Richard Linklater confederate, are performers who, outside of their respective comfort zones, rarely get the kind of work they should. Sure, Sackhoff popped up in "Riddick" last year, and it was great to see her as an empowered warrior woman again -- but she was also forced to take her shirt off, which felt like the worst kind of compromise. And it's hard to pinpoint what Cochrane has been up to, exactly. Sure he was in "Argo," an Oscar-winner for Best Picture, but can anyone remember who he played or what he did? (I'm assuming he was one of the hostages.) Whatever they've been up to, it's wonderful to see them together, and able to give strong, emotionally nuanced performances as a husband and wife torn apart by something truly horrible.
7. The Editing Is Really Clever
As the movie progresses, the two timelines start to swirl together, like a chocolate and vanilla ice cream cone, and director Mike Flanagan has a lot of fun with this. He does really clever things like, say, a shot of the kids running down the stairs will end at the bottom of the stairs and he'll pan to the right and see the adult version of the siblings coming around the corner. It's all connected! It's sort of hard to describe, but it lends the movie a giddily dreamlike vibe that is much appreciated.
8. This Is Exhibit A in the Great Taste of WWE Studios
In addition to Blumhouse, the movie got another big backer out of Toronto last year: WWE Studios, the cinematic arm of the wrestling giant. The studio has impeccable taste, and this is the clearest example yet of their ability to single out a top tier genre film and get their marketing might behind it. A couple of years ago, they had an unstoppable year with the surprise smash "The Call" (with Halle Berry) and "Dead Man Down," a severely underrated revenge movie starring Colin Ferrell and Noomi Rapace (seriously, watch it now). That should have been proof positive that there was more to this studio than direct-to-video action movies starring their stable of superstars. WWE Studios is a brand that you're going to depend on for a certain kind of film, and one that they are more than happy to deliver.
9. The Ending Is a Corker
Again, all you're going to get out of me. But the final beat is one that leaves you absolutely shaken.
10. It Could Be a Franchise
Another thing Jason Blum is known for, besides the found-footage shtick, is to cultivate unlikely franchises out of movies that seem to be one-and-done affairs (the second "Purge" comes out this summer for crying out loud). The possibility is certainly there for further "Oculus"-es, and what's more -- it's something that most people would actively get behind. Yes, there could be sequels, but there could also be prequels, inspired by the previous experiences with the haunted mirror. I'll be there for any future installments, squirming uncontrollably.