A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Oculus is an outstanding horror film about a haunted mirror. Expect several gory scenes that are designed to induce squirms (including photos of grisly deaths and crime scenes, fingernails being ripped off, etc.); there are also some flat-out scary images that aren't meant for the faint of heart. But while there's plenty of blood in the movie, its real focus is on story and characters (the siblings are interesting, albeit not always admirable). Language is somewhat strong, with a few uses of "s--t" and one possible use of "f--k" (spoken quietly during a noisy scene). There's a scene of heavy drinking, some minor kissing between couples, and some Apple computers shown. The movie is likely to be a must-see for horror buffs, and many teens will want to see it, too.
What's the story?
After 11 years, Tim Russell (Brenton Thwaites) -- who killed his father as a boy -- is released from a psychiatric hospital. His sister, Kaylie (Karen Gillan), immediately asks him to participate in a ritual: to help destroy the creepy old mirror that she thinks caused all the trouble. At first, it appears as if Kaylie may be crazy, but it soon becomes apparent that the mirror does have the power to make people see things. Before long, the siblings are flashing back to the events of their childhood, when the mirror drove their mother (Katee Sackhoff) into hysterics and turned their father (Rory Cochrane) into a homicidal maniac. Will Tim and Kaylie be able to tell reality from nightmare -- and survive?
Is it any good?
Creepy mirrors have been featured in horror movies plenty of times before, but none of them have been anything quite like OCULUS. It immediately turns your expectations upside via the character of Tim, a troubled but cured soul with blood on his hands. The question of whether he'll kill again quickly becomes moot as his old bond with his sister re-asserts itself. The characters are strong and interact in vivid ways, and they remain the movie's anchor; they're no horror movie amateurs, and they struggle to stay on top of the scares.
But Oculus' real weapon is its flashbacks, which aren't specifically used as flashbacks but rather as illusions and nightmares forced upon the characters by the mirror's evil. They fold over into reality as younger and older versions of the same characters regard one another, and it's clear that they shouldn't be taken literally. This is a breakthrough for director Mike Flanagan, and (apologies for the pun) a most reflective horror movie.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Oculus' violence and gore. Which scenes were meant to make you squeal and squirm, and which had a more visceral effect? What's the difference between these moments? Do bloody scenes make a movie more frightening?
How scary is Oculus compared to other horror movies you've seen? What's scary about it? How did you feel about the scenes with the young children in peril? Did it make a difference knowing that they were only flashbacks or nightmares and that the children survive to grow up?
What's the relationship between the central brother and sister like? Is it realistic? Is it stereotypical? If you have siblings, how does it compare to your relationship with them?
For kids who love scares
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