‘Oculus’ a mind-messing tale of suspense

Photo by JOHN ESTES -- Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites star in 'Oculus.' Show caption
Photo by JOHN ESTES -- Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites star in 'Oculus.'

Reviewer’s Rating: ★★★

In the magical realms of fiction and film, mirrors are not strangers to the supernatural. The wicked queen in the Brothers Grimm’s “Snow White” consults her all-seeing mirror about matters of beauty and vanity. The hook-wielding ghost in “Candyman” can be called from any mirror in front of which his name is said five times.

A mirror itself may be the evil thing in the chilling new horror movie, “Oculus.” Or perhaps this mirror is a demon’s earthly vessel. Or a portal through which a demon may enter, for instance, a suburban family’s home.

Whatever the case may be, allowing the antique mirror that plays such an important part in “Oculus” into one’s home is not a smart move. But that’s what Alan Russell does. A new house and a new job calls for new furniture, he tells his doomed wife, Marie.

The Russell family’s new furniture includes the mirror called the Lasser Glass. An at least centuries-old looking glass held within a gnarly black frame, it’s named for the first of its owners whose name is recorded in history. Englishman Philip Lasser met a bad end.

After Russell moves the Lasser Glass into his home office, bizarre things happen in the household. Even house plants and the family dog suffer.

“Oculus,” a cleverly conceived and executed tale by writer-director Mike Flanagan and co-writer Jeff Howard, is a mind-messing tale set simultaneously in two time periods. Few films have shifted so often and so smoothly between past and present. Flanagan, who made his living as an editor before his move to directing, is the editor of “Oculus” as well as its director and co-writer.

Siblings Kaylie and Tim are reunited 10 years after their parents’ descent into madness. On Tim’s 21st birthday, his older sister by two years picks him up from the mental hospital from which he’s been discharged. Tim took the fall for murdering their father. Of course, the Lasser Glass, or its resident demon, is the real culprit.

Tim, following years of psychiatric treatment, has put his family’s traumatic past behind him. Kaylie, on other hand, is obsessed with killing “the thing” she believes murdered her parents.

Scottish actress Karen Gillan, who had a five-year run as Amy Pond in TV’s “Doctor Who,” takes confident command as Kaylie. Big sister ropes her freshly sprung brother into returning to the house where wicked things occurred a decade before.

Gillan and Australian actor Brenton Thwaites, who co-stars as Tim, sharply define their sibling characters’ disparate personalities. She’s gung-ho. He’s reluctant and, to the point of being annoying, doubting.

It was essential to find a complementary pair of child actors to play the movie’s younger versions of Tim and Kaylie. The filmmakers found them in Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan. The actors and the film’s director-co-writer-editor manage the story’s increasingly frequent transitions between time periods in masterful style.

For horror fans, “Oculus” dispenses some shocks in the darkness alongside its multiple chills and creepy atmosphere. Most of all, the movie is a hallucinogenic plunge down a rabbit hole of no return.