Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the craziest of them all?

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The great thing about sci-fi and horror films is that thrilling sense that anything can happen.

That, of course, is also a problem with a lot of genre films. Given licence to defy the mundane strictures of the real world, genre stories can spin out of their narrative orbits.

Case in point: Oculus, a movie about an antique mirror that possesses those in its proximity.

It starts off very well indeed. Kaylie (Karen Gillan) welcomes her brother Tim (Brenton Thwaites) back from an extended stay at a psychiatric facility after he was found guilty in the murder of his father years earlier.

Kaylie knows Tim was not responsible. In flashbacks, it is revealed that their dad, Alan (Rory Cochrane), became slowly unhinged after installing the infamous "Lasser Glass" in his home office. Dad starts to take up residence in the den. In fact, he can be heard in whispered conversations with... who knows? Mom Marie (Katee Sackhoff), meanwhile, suffers problems of her own, if you can be so glib as to call a rapid descent into madness a "problem." The kids (nice performances by Annalisse Basso and Garrett Ryan) are trapped until their domestic drama plays out to its bloody conclusion.

In the present, the enterprising Kaylie has engineered a way of documenting the mirror's evil, having researched its murderous history. She steals it from an auction brokerage house, puts it in the now-abandoned family home, and installs cameras everywhere to capture the mirror's supernatural ability to destroy those in its path. (The movie threatens to go "found-footage" on us, but does not. Thank you, director Mike Flanagan.)

Too bad for Kaylie: the adult Tim no longer believes the mirror was the source of the evil that destroyed his family, following the psychiatrist's line that the insanity that afflicted the family was more or less organic.

Tim holds on to that belief in the initial stages of his sister's experiment. But just as sis's theory proves correct, the movie itself becomes unhinged.

The problem is the mirror has the ability to induce hallucination. That means anything can happen. And everything does. The third act is as messy an unravelling of an otherwise scrupulously constructed plot as you'll ever see.

Even so, Oculus has its effective, chilling moments, playing on the kids' realization that the image the family presents to the world is not necessarily real. The Lasser Glass joins an inventory of horrific looking-glasses, going back to "The Haunted Mirror" sequence of the 1945 horror classic Dead of Night, all the way up to the 2008 Kiefer Sutherland thriller Mirrors.

Curiously, in this age of narcissism, the film offers no interesting subtext to a story of a family undone by its own reflection.

Guess I'll have to write that script myself. Which do you think is the better title: Selfie Massacre or Little Photoshop of Horror?

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 11, 2014 D5

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