The mirror at the heart of Oculus is capable of unrelenting evil, and that’s hardly a spoiler for anyone who saw the film’s trailer.
The notion of evil is essential to the horror genre, says Oculus director Mike Flanagan, and it’s why he says these films will never go out of style despite warnings to the contrary.
The film follows two siblings arguing over the influence of an antique mirror on their deeply damaged childhood. The older sister (Karen Gillan) thinks the mirror played a role in their father’s death when the two were just children. Her brother (Brenton Thwaites) recently left an institution and says such talk distracts them from getting on with their lives.
The mirror, alas, has other plans.
Flanagan, an unabashed fan of horror movies, says the genre allows us to examine the darkest, most disturbing elements of our nature “and try to work them out in a safe environment.”
“This genre, in particular, is a reflection of society. It’s where we put all of our demons,” he says. Said demons can be something of a supernatural nature or simply a serial killer with a penchant for hockey masks.
“As a culture we have a really hard time understanding evil because we can’t relate to it,” he says. “We see examples of it in the real world. We see these horrific things happen. We try so hard to rationalize and understand it, but were’re doomed to fail. We can’t make sense of real evil, especially on a grand scale. We cannot come up with a story that suddenly makes us understand it.”
Oculus producer Trevor Macy says his creative team purposely kept elements of the mirror vague throughout the story.
“There’s a big temptation to say, ‘Satan did a ritual in 1642 on the wood … to be super specific with its origin story,” Macy says. “But Mike’s fond of saying, ‘evil in the world isn’t usually explained’ … if you’re trying to make a dread-filled movie it heightens the effect of it [to leave details out].”
“Hopefully,” Macy says, “the audience gets to fill in a little bit of its own.”
Every few years one entertainment outlet or another will look at the recent batch of horror movies and insist the genre is “dead,” says Flanagan.
Human nature and the genre say otherwise.
“Anybody that makes claims about the genre dying or losing its impact, they’re proven wrong again and again,” Flanagan says.