“This is definitely the wrong way to do this”
Had I watched writer/director Mike Flanagan‘s short Oculus: Chapter 3 – The Man with the Plan when it was released in 2006, I might have found myself reacting much differently. Being eight years later and a world post Sinister and The Conjuring success, however, I can’t help feeling underwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very well made for its shoestring two-grand budget and does possess a few nicely orchestrated effects via carefully blocked shots and specific jump cuts through time. I simply never found myself close to getting scared or seeing anything as more than an effective parlor trick lacking true surprise or supernatural wonder.
So while it’s technically assured and a worthwhile horror study on paper, my ultimate appreciation of it is as little more than an oral history of its central, haunted mirror preparing me for the feature length Oculus Flanagan created in its wake. We learn about the glass’ eighteenth century origins and the numerous deaths that occurred in its presence throughout the years before resting in the office of Tim Russel’s (Scott Graham) father back in the 1980s. It was there that the star of this one-man show first encountered the mirror’s evil pull, a lasting memory of how his family was destroyed and a battle-cry to once and for all expose it and ensure it never hurts another soul again.
In order to do this, Tim hatches a plan he believes to be foolproof as the foremost authority on the mirror’s occult history. With three cameras pointed at it—each with its own power source—he hopes to catch whatever may happen inside the claustrophobic room of its display. Alarm clocks are set for different purposes so he won’t run out of tape, go hungry or thirsty (other owners died by such), or fall asleep and never awaken. Tim even enlists the help of friend Steve (Dave Levine) to call every hour and make sure he’s still alive and kicking in case the mirror has ideas of taking him for its latest victim. As the experiment advances, however, we see the true terror lies inside him.
There are some stunning shots such as Tim walking towards a camera while a television screen depicts him on the floor, mouth agape in a torturous pose despite supposedly displaying the present. It’s this manipulation of time, action, and reality itself that Oculus: Chapter 3 excels at, disorientating us until we’re as stir-crazy as Tim trying to figure out what was done in his numerous memory gaps. Did he really take the sheet off the mirror and completely forget? Did the mirror only make him believe that he did? Is the object truly sentient or merely a victim of its own legacy allowing those in proximity to devolve into insanity while waiting for it to come to life?
You have to hand it to Flanagan for staying true to his subtle intentions and mood scares going beyond nicely timed alarm clock sirens and telephone rings to make us jump. He blurs the line between reality and Tim’s mind effectively too so that we aren’t sure what is happening what are manifestations of this broken man. The brightness of the room may hinder its ability to frighten or maybe I just kept guessing where it was all going. I can appreciate the attempt to create a new mythology around an ornate artifact from the past even if it played out parallel to my expectations. The potential for more is definitely present, though, and if nothing else it’s whet my appetite for Oculus even more.