Horror films by definition are malevolent but Mike Flanagan's Oculus has a really unsettling meanness to it that is fairly disturbing. Murderous, demonic spirits need motivation just like any other character, to my mind, but Flanagan's haint seems to like to kill without meaning or purpose. Can it be that for screenwriters all acceptable reasons have been spent? Or has Hollywood entered into an era of pointless annihilation, which in itself signals a turn toward the dystopic. That seems too easy. The picture stars the Scottish actress Karen Gillan (whom I first noticed as the irrepressible Amy Pond of Doctor Who) and Aussie Brenton Thwaites as sibling survivors of a particularly nasty domestic upset that left both parents (Katie Sackhoff and Rory Cochrane) dead and Thwaites's Timmy in the nut house. In the 11 year interim since that really bad day, Big Sister Kaylie has been hatching a plan to call out and, presumably, destroy the devil living in a cracked and cranky mirror that Kaylie believes was the cause of a few dozen grisly murders over the past 300 years. The film, which is artfully crafted and loaded with jolts, is comparatively free of gore and guts, but puts the children in peril trope through its paces. I'm not a fan of parents beating up on tots (be they mouthy or not) so this picture was tough going for me. Recommended but with those reservations.


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