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Review: 'Oculus' delivers intelligently nasty scares

EntertainmentMoviesReviewsKatee Sackhoff

Two psychologically damaged siblings doing battle with a mysterious home furnishing makes for nervy moviegoing in the housebound chiller "Oculus."

The object in question is the Lasser Glass, an ornate, antique black cedar mirror of historically malevolent intentions, or so believes Kaylie (Karen Gillan), whose parents met a bloody, psychotic end a decade ago.

Her younger, more emotionally fragile brother Tim (Brenton Thwaites), fresh from a mental facility, is less sure of sis' theory and more intent on moving on from the tragedy. But he still participates in Kaylie's elaborate all-night exorcist-meets-ghostbuster plan to outsmart and destroy the mirror.

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What ensues is a claustrophobic mind-freak à la Roman Polanski's 1965 "Repulsion" that — thanks to co-writer and director Mike Flanagan's ironclad grip on the material — smartly grounds the showdown in the roots of childhood trauma and the adult siblings' warring views on how to deal with it.

The second half becomes a perception-distorting carnival ride in which Kaylie and Tim fight off mirror-induced realities while reliving the truth behind their parents' breakdown, depicted in deftly woven flashbacks that boast a pair of deliciously downward-spiraling performances by Rory Cochrane and Katee Sackhoff (whose expressive eyes were made for this genre).

Less concerned with fake shocks and show-me violence than the grimly calibrated rotting of personalities, "Oculus" is one of the more intelligently nasty horror films in recent memory.

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