Oculus: quite a frightful sight (in a good way)!

oculus movie Putting my head above the parapet to share some quick reflections on Oculus, director and co-writer Mike Flanagan’s superb horror flick from last year worth looking into.

As the puns suggest, it is about a mirror. A haunted mirror. It is no laughing matter.

Dr Who‘s Karen Gillan and Aussie Brenton Thwaites play Kaylie and Tim, reunited after Tim’s got out of a psych clinic years after a horrific incident of apparent domestic abuse.

The movie cleverly merges that past trauma, with young actors Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan giving wonderful performances, with the present as the nature of the mirror is revealed.

Illusion, obsession and confusion reign. Horror results.

Do not watch this movie if you’re feeling down.

Unlike this year’s similar and, indeed, similarly superb, Aussie effort Babadook, there’s precious little hope or light to be found here — it is perhaps my only quibble, from a thematic basis. But the narrative plays out truthfully and unapologetically.

I loved the quiet, building dread of this movie (enhanced by its subtle score), and the brilliant editing as timelines meet — no cheap, screaming string section; no gotcha! jump cuts.

The relationship between brother and sister is well drawn, their actions and reactions believable and intelligent. And by the end of the movie, boy, did Kirstyn and I hate that mirror.

Battlestar Galactica‘s Katee Sackhoff is also among the cast, but in this instance, it’s a case of no cigar for her character.

It’s great to see some clever, psychologically astute horror films around. Another recent viewing was this year’s Irish movie The Canal; alas, it didn’t hold together as tightly as the two mentioned above, and was soundly let down by its bob-each-way ending. Worth a look, though — there’s a public toilet that Candyman would be proud of.


The Babadook: horror out of the pen


The Babadook is an Australian horror movie. It’s clever without being pompous or overwrought. A suburban working mother is trying to raise her needy son while stricken by grief over her husband’s death. Then a book is found, and it tells of the Babadook, who once it gets in, can never be got out.
There is so much to like about this film: acting, setting, lighting, sound, combined with an insightful script. Deftness, depth and subtlety define this movie — the narrative pulled me along, and the ending wrapped it up beautifully, its metaphors intact and satisfied. Here are some of the credits:

  • The heroine is a working single mother, whose hair is in disarray, who looks shattered from the opening frame.
  • The heroine does not wear makeup, except for the one time she does in company who wear it better. This tells us a lot.
  • When the heroine screams, it is not a screech. it sounds real. The acting is uniformly superb, but lead Amelia (Essie Davis) and son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) are particularly brilliant as they carry the emotional journey.
  • There are no aural tricks to make the audience jump. There are no jump cuts to make the audience jump. Possibly, this makes it even creepier, perhaps because tropes are used — opening doors, creaking floors, fleeting shadows, popping lightbulbs. Sound is wonderfully adept at creating mood without intruding or being overtly manipulating.
    badadook movie poster

  • The kid is a weird little guy in his own way, and despite his Home Alone precociousness in the arena of home defence, he is just a kid.
  • The characters act naturally, resulting in increasing isolation and dislocation for the heroine. Mostly through her own decisions. There are no villains, just people trying to deal.
  • The heroine does bad things, but she is not an image of hate or scorn.
  • There is no happy ending, but rather, progress, and ongoing struggle with the hope of some kind of equilibrium.
  • The setting reflects the character’s mental and emotional state.
  • Facts about the characters that inform the story are introduced with subtlety that urge a re-watching to fully appreciate just how well sewn this tapestry is — a few, minor dangling threads notwithstanding.
  • The symbolism is clever and consistent but not pretentious. You want to talk about grief, depression, dysfunction in an engaging and oblique fashion — the personal cost and the impact on family, friends and those around — this is the perfect example of how a horror story can do that.

    I hope writer/director Jennifer Kent, who adapted this feature from her short film, Monster, gets support for her next project. She went to Kickstarter to help this one get across the line, and has rewarded those supporters handsomely.

  • Bearing up to a weekend in Melbourne

    At the weekend we went to Melbourne.

    Feathered polar bear installation You started it ... I finish it, by Paola Pivi, at NGV

    You started it … I finish it, by Paola Pivi, at NGV


    We saw, at the National Gallery of Victoria, a stunning collection of artwork by William Blake. He made his own process for printing words and pictures together. He had to write backwards — maybe that was why, as my wife pointed out, he had i before e after c. We went to Dante’s hell with Blake and it was a free ride. Next door was a video installation, part of which involved jiggled bellies, swaying branches, a tilting table, body parts being covered in dye and washed off. In the foyer, THERE WERE BEARS. Polar bears covered in feathers. No touching. Kirstyn was jumping out of her skin, wanting to hug these life-size, brightly coloured sculptures. The sheer delight these statues brought, not just to children but adults too …

    Untitled, 2003, by Lee Bul

    Untitled, 2003, by Lee Bul

    Also for free at NGV was a whole floor of funky furniture and glassware, a Warhol or two, and an alien hanging in disassembled (or reassembling) pieces. Here and there amongst the art were little placards, part of the self-guided Art As Therapy tour, that directed the viewer to consider the work, perhaps in a different way to what it, at first sight, suggested; at the very least, the placards pointed out symbolism and meaning for the viewer to ponder and appreciate.

    We went to the Willy Lit Fest. It’s a literary festival held annually in Williamstown, on the bay. Kirstyn was on a panel with Lucy Sussex and moderator Dmetri Kakmi talking about the Gothic and horror, and then we had lunch with friends. Or rather, we ordered lunch with friends, who ate theirs and went to the next panel, while we waited for ours, and ate it, and took the ferry back to the city. I love seeing a city from the water. I especially like the cranes, not to be confused with the cormorants, and the low bridges the ferry slips under, vaguely reminiscent of Venice’s waterways, and the high bridges it goes under, which I usually see from the other side.

    Westgate Bridge seen from Williamstown Ferry

    Westgate Bridge

    Cranes seen from Williamstown Ferry

    Cranes

    Bolte Bridge seen from Williamstown Ferry

    Bolte Bridge

    Williamstown Ferry approaching Melbourne

    Williamstown Ferry


    We saw Gary Numan perform his Splinter concert, rocking the Hi-Fi bar for 90 minutes and never a non-lyric word said, but an awesome grin at the encore that said it all really. The Red Paintings were the support, two kimono ladies doing wonderful things to violin and bass while a man called Trash with a sloth on his back sang about a failed revolution, and painters painted, one on canvas, one on a dancer not quite game to go-go in her underwear and carnival bobble head. The sound was far more crisp for them than for Numan, where volume won out, but everyone played their hearts out.

    On the Saturday night, walking up the street, we saw a water feature, a wall with water running down it, and people were making patterns and words from autumn leaves, stuck to the surface. Seasonal art, flowing naturally.

    We ate Japanese one night, at our favourite city Japanese restaurant, Edoya, and it did not disappoint. The next night we picked a Vietnamese restaurant, Pho & Co, at random and ordered up a storm of share dishes. The service was slick and the food was quick to arrive and sensational. We also scored a breakfast table at hole-in-the-wall Aix creperie: awesome way to start the day.

    We watched a movie we hadn’t heard of but the poster looked so very cool: The Babadook. It’s Australian. It’s incredibly good. Someone — I suspect the writer/director, Jennifer Kent — had a good, hard think about horror movies and mental illness, and the resulting metaphors were brilliantly drawn. All the way through to the end. At the panel at the Willy Lit Fest both Kirstyn and Lucy said how horror can be used to approach difficult subjects, how symbolism can help us be touched by something we’d otherwise shy from: this was, Kirstyn said, the perfect example. I agree.

    We stayed at the Citiclub Hotel on Queen St. The website we booked through mentioned the competitive price and the comfy room and the convenient location, but skipped the fact the hotel contains a nightclub. I intend never to stay there again.

    Melbourne: so much to do, but be careful where you lay your head.