I was waiting for Oculus (2013) to become stupid, but it never did. It remained logical right to the end. Before Oculus the creepiest horror movie I’d seen was Sinister (2012) and I watched that about a year ago yet I watch horror movies every week.
(When watching Sinister my daughter, bless her, hid her face behind a cushion several times until I was forced to ask her what on earth she was playing at. Hadn’t she worked out the people were actors, reading lines they had committed to memory, or that they were doing what the director – the unseen person behind the camera – was telling them to do? Yes, thank you, she had worked that out. So I asked her what on earth she was hiding for?)
Oculus gets everything right, and even if it gets things right by accident, I don’t care. By this I mean no laws of physics are broken, everything which happens is physically possible. I mean to say, you can’t have possessed humans crawling along the ceiling because Newton would have to lodge a complaint. Such things are absurd.
Oculus has no such absurdities and the atmosphere comes from the fundamental basis of human fear – the unknown.
The premise is that a young boy is arrested and committed to a mental facility for killing his father. Upon release his sister comes calling to take him back to the house they lived in as kids to confront the evil entity which drove their parents insane. The entity in question is a mirror.
This mirror would be the showpiece in any room, set as it is in an ornate, carved-wood frame. The sight of it is creepy enough; it just hangs there, staring right back at you, reflecting more than your reflection.
Some history is given for this mirror, not for its creation, but its ownership. This starts in London in the late 18th century and the sister has researched forward to the present day. The unknown is present here and begins working on the viewer. Who owned it before the sister’s research began? Where did it come from?
This sort of provenance (or lack of) was used, for instance, in Stephen King’s From a Buick 8 (2002). A strange car is left at a gas-station by a mysterious figure in black, and the reader has no choice but to wonder where it came from. This question is never answered. The unknown works away at our minds from the beginning.
It’s a simple technique. Don’t tell the audience everything and their minds will ask questions and fill in the blanks. If those blanks are about fears, or an object meant to be scary, the unknown allows the human to subconciously choose whatever works for them. If you want to scare someone, get them to choose their own fear, it’ll be more effective than choosing it for them. Ask Winston Smith.
I (to my annoyance) haven’t managed to work out what the connection is to Sleeping Beauty. There’s the mirror (mirror, mirror, on the wall), there’s the (step) mother, who is worried about losing her looks and whose reflection appears older in the mirror and worries her husband is having an affair, and there’s the apples the daughter munches throughout the movie. I mean to say, I’ve never seen a character in a horror movie eat so many apples.
It’s odd that the mega-budget movies can’t seem to get under the skin as well as the cheaper, non-blockbusters do. Do the studios strip the ambiguity from a script because, perhaps, they think audiences want answers to everything and tidy endings? Maybe smaller budgets keep things simple and therefore more effective?