Pulpmovies Cult Film Reviews
How nerve wracking can you make a film if all you have is a man in a room with a mirror? If you happen to be Mike Flanagan, the answer is very nerve wracking indeed.
Tim Russel (Scott Graham) is the man in a – very bare – room in which he’s set up three video cameras, a stack of alarm clocks and a couple of phones. The film starts with him taking delivery of the mirror – which he decides to keep covered while he explains for the benefit of the cameras what he is trying to achieve.
Tim’s parents died when he was a child and he is convinced that the mirror, which once belonged to his father, is responsible. In order to prove this, he has not only tracked down the mirror but also uncovered its long and lethal history, which he proceeds to describe in all its gruesome detail. The cameras and the rest of the equipment have been set up so that Tim can prove and document exactly what the mirror can do…
It’s a very simple set-up and, especially in the early scenes, one that is very reminiscent of camp fire ghost stories. And, in that tradition, the stories that Tim tells – only occasionally illustrated by a found photo – tend to end ambiguously and rely on the telling of the story to imbue them with significance.
This approach is, of course, heavily dependent on Scott Graham’s performance. And it’s a superb performance, very naturally drawing the audience into Tim’s world and keeping us with him as he becomes increasingly irrational.
Films have been made before about possessed artefacts, but what Flanagan brings to the mix is a stark minimalism – even the mirror remains covered for much of the film – and a sense of uncertainty as to how much is real, how much is in Tim’s imagination, and what effect the mirror is having on Tim’s mind. Both the editing and the set-design deserve a mention here for managing to maintain a level of disorientation as to how much time has passed and what is happening and when, all of which serves to build an increasing sense of dread as the film progresses.
Utterly gripping from start to finish, Oculus manages to be both a genuinely unnerving ghost story and a chilling study of insanity.
The Man with the Plan is intended to be the third of a nine part series of films revolving around the mirror. I really do hope that the rest of the films achieve the same high standard of this one, which demonstrates perfectly the elements that make a good horror film – an interesting story, an engaging character and steady yet unrelenting build-up of tension.