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Why Oculus is More Than Just a Haunted House Movie

India has been an avid fan of all things spooky and scary ever since she can remember.


"Do you like scary movies?"

— Scream, 1996

Ever since I can remember I’ve been attracted to the eerie, the perverse, and the terrifying. As an elementary schooler, I read Jo-Anne Christensen’s Campfire Ghost Stories so many times I could recite each one from memory (much to my siblings’ dismay). As a preteen, I savored Edgar Allen Poe’s tales of misery (I was overjoyed when my seventh-grade class read The Telltale Heart). And then I discovered horror movies.

I’ll never forget my first scary movie. At 13 years old, I’d been invited to my cousin’s house to celebrate her birthday. After hours of gossiping and playing Truth or Dare, she fell asleep—but I wasn’t ready for bed just yet. Instead, I turned on the TV and flipped through the channels until I stumbled across a zombie flick. The acting was poor and the budget miniscule, but I was hooked. I spent the next hour and a half with my eyes glued to the screen, unable to look away as the characters blasted the shambling hordes (somehow managing a headshot every time).

Fast forward 9 years later, and my love affair with horror is going strong (though I like to believe my tastes are more discerning). While I still watch the occasional B-movie, I’m now on the hunt for something better, something more sinister: hidden gems of the horror genre, films which have been overlooked or underappreciated by audiences. It is these gems I hope to share with you, dear reader. May you discover thrills and chills like never before! And now, without further ado, let us discuss our first monstrous masterpiece: 2014’s Oculus.

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Ordinarily, a movie about haunted furniture would be goofy rather than fear-inducing (think of the bed scene from Nightmare on Elm Street). However, Mike Flanagan’s Oculus transforms this questionable premise into an unsettling tale of paranoia, insanity, and murder. The movie follows Kaylie (Karen Gillan), a successful careerwoman haunted by her parents’ untimely deaths. Along with her brother, Sam (Brenton Thwaites), she sets out to prove that the mirror in her father’s study is responsible for the family’s misfortune.

Like the mirror itself, Oculus is, at first glance, unremarkable. However, despite its low budget and predictable plot twists, the film is more than another haunted house movie; rather, it is a meditation on the frailty of the human mind—something which can be broken far more easily than the mirror itself. For by preying on the characters’ weaknesses and insecurities, the mirror destroys their bodies, relationships, and eventually, their minds: tormenting them until they can no longer withstand its manipulations. The family’s descent into madness is a stark reminder of the thin line between sanity and insanity, sickness and health. Often, all it takes is a small push to send someone over the edge—and the consequences can be devastating. It’s an ambitious issue for any film to tackle—let alone one with a $5 million dollar budget.

© 2022 India LaPalme

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