Oculus Will Mess With Your Mind

Movie poster for OculusI hadn’t really heard much about Oculus — somehow it flew under my radar when it came out — but I recently watched it and was pleasantly surprised. The movie focuses on brother and sister Tim (Brenton Thwaites) and Kaylie Russell (Karen Gillan), who survived some terrifying events when they were children. Their parents ended up dead and Tim was accused of murder and spent ten years in an institution. As the movie begins, he has just been released, convinced that he has been cured and that everything that happened to him when he was young has a perfectly logical explanation. However, Kaylie is not of the same mind, and is convinced that the problems all began with an antique mirror — one that she has managed to find. Kaylie is intent upon expunging the evil that lives within the mirror and she brings Tim along for the ride.

Brenton Thwaites and Karen Gillan in Oculus

Mirrors and doorways are always fascinating to me. There is a liminality — a neither here nor there — the potential for something just on the other side that is unexpected. The word “oculus” typically refers to a round opening, and the mirror in this movie is just that — an opening to something or somewhere else. There seems to be a presence that lives in the mirror, which can take hold of the minds of those close to it, the radius of power spreading as it sucks energy from those near. It changes people. It also messes with their mind. Often Kaylie or Tim is convinced that one thing is happening, when in reality something entirely different is going on. Or, they think they are in one place when in reality they are somewhere else. The mirror distorts their perception enough that it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to tell what is real and what is fantasy. Unfortunately, many of these deceptions are dangerous, and it doesn’t take long for the situation in the house to deteriorate.

Interspersed with the current attempts by the siblings to rid the mirror of its power are flashbacks to what happened years ago when they were young. Their parents are played by Rory Cochrane and Katee Sackhoff, and slowly we begin to see how the mirror corrupted their minds, caused their deaths, and destroyed the family. There are a lot of scary and disturbing situations in these parts of the film, which help lend to the seriousness of the current task that Kaylie has taken on.

This movie kept me guessing and made me jump quite a bit! If you like movies about haunted houses or possession, then you will probably enjoy Oculus.

Joe Hill’s Horns Has Teeth

Cover of HornsRecently I read and was blown away by Joe Hill’s NOS4A2. So, I decided to write something up on Horns, too. The short summary of the book is that a guy wakes up with horns on his head and things get weird. However, this book is a lot more than that. It does some intricate footwork with childhood and fantasy, the difference between good and evil, and horror and comedy. The characters feel real, even when the weird stuff starts happening. Ig is clumsy and honest and often less than likable and, through it all, completely human. Hill pulls you in immediately

Ignatius Martin Parrish spent the night drunk and doing terrible things. He woke the next morning with a headache, put his hands to his temples, and felt something unfamiliar, a pair of knobby pointed protuberances. He was so ill — wet-eyed and weak — he didn’t think anything of it at first, was too hung-over for thinking or worry.

But, when he was swaying above the toilet, he glanced at himself in the mirror over the sink and saw he had grown horns while he slept. He lurched in surprise, and for the second time in twelve hours he pissed on his feet.

Ig’s day continues to get worse, and we learn that he has been accused — but never convicted — of the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Merrin, almost a year before. Small town life has made it hard for him. Many believe that he is guilty, and so he pretty much has had to deal with his grief on his own. On top of this, he now has the horns to deal with, which seem to compel whoever he is around to tell him — in complete honesty — all of their deepest, darkest desires. People seem to notice the horns, but not really find them unusual, and they kind of forget about them as soon as they’re not around him anymore. As Ig goes from family members to friends in search of help, he begins to learn more about the truth behind Merrin’s death.

Woven between the present day situation are flashes back to Ig’s childhood when he and Merrin first met in church (he thought she was flashing him a message in Morse code with her gold cross), and to a summer filled with cherry bombs (the real, old dangerous kinds), wild rides down a hill in a shopping cart (naked on a dare), and his first interactions with the third member of their little group, Lee.

The contrast of the raw feelings from childhood — first love, the efforts at fitting in — with the darker and more disturbing feelings of Ig’s present is interesting. Ig and Merrin seem to be made for each other, and at one point find a magical treehouse where they spend a few snatched hours together. They can never find that treehouse again, and it seems that the time they shared there was a doorway, or at least the beginning of what will happen to both of them as they grow into adulthood.

Ig’s transformation into the physical representation of what we typically would consider The Devil, is in marked difference to his all consuming, righteous need to find and punish Merrin’s killer. Hill works this transformation incrementally throughout the book, and there are aspects of it that are very clever, such as how Ig obtains red skin and a timely scene involving a pitchfork.

Throughout the book,  though, there is the horror of loss of love, loss of world, and loss of self. Ig has to deal with losing everything, piece by piece, and he has little control over what is happening to him. Hill brings the book to closure with a bittersweet finale that I will not forget.

I am looking forward to seeing what the new film of the movie will bring, but I would highly recommend that you read the book first!