Mike Flanagan’s direction Oculus, is a horror flick which has a non-linear narrative (his other popular film is Gerald’s Game). The film stars Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Katee Sackhoff, Rory Cochrane, Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan in the lead roles. I got a few requests for the film, finally got watching it, so let’s get going. This is Oculus Explained. Spoilers Ahead.
The strength of the film is the fantastic non-linear storytelling. However, it’s just a lot easier if we walked through the plot in a chronological order. I’d like to mention here that there are two ways to view this film – either as a horror (a paranormal mirror) or a psychological thriller (a crazy family). Let’s do the paranormal approach first.
Plot Explanation: The Paranormal Version
It Began 11 Years Ago
A family moves into a new house. Alan, the dad. Marie, the mom. Kaylie, the elder daughter. Tim, the younger son. They buy new furniture. Amongst them is this one mirror. This mirror is evil. And as evil objects, this mirror takes a while before it extends its field of control and domination. The mirror uses illusions to trap its victims.
Dogs and Plants
Through the happenings of this film, we find out that the mirror feeds on dogs, plants, and human minds for its energy. The family dog begins to fall sick. One day, Marie locks the dog up in the office and when Alan gets back in the evening, the dog is gone. Presumably, the mirror consumed it.
Woman in the Office
Marisol, the evil in the mirror seduces Alan. This mind is slowly corrupted by the the mirror as it is in the office room where he is most of the times. Both Kaylie and Tim happen to see this woman in the office room on multiple occasions. Now, they both assume that it is a human woman. Marie has never seen her, although, she does hear Alan talking to someone when in his office room. Marie begins to suspect that Alan is having an affair. Alan begins to grow more distant. He is spoken to by Marisol quite often now and his mind is well possessed.
One day, Marie sees that Alan has bought a gun, apparently for protection. She asks him to lock it away, he agrees. As Marie leaves the room the mirror calls her a “Grotesque cow” in Alan’s voice. Marie is wounded deeply by this. She looks into the mirror and is presented with a distorted image of herself.
Marie Gets Possessed
After hearing from both her children about the “woman in the office”, Marie goes to the office to see a sheet filled with “Marisol”. Not knowing that is evil in the mirror, she concludes that Alan is having an affair. In her anger, she throws something in the direction of the mirror and she hits only the wall next to it. Right after this, Marie is possessed. Tim and Kaylie come to check on her, she chokes Tim. The two kids break away and run upstairs and lock themselves in their room. Just then Alan shows up. He quickly subdues Marie and knocks her out. For a short moment, Alan is in his senses and tries to call for help. But the mirror intercepts and tells Alan to chain and lock up Marie like an animal instead. Alan tells the kids that their mother is sick and they need to keep away from her. He ends up saying “we” instead of “I”, Kaylie notices but Alan doesn’t care to clarify who “we” is. Later, we are shown Alan taking some really bad looking food for Marie. He’s torturing her and making her eat plates. Marie loses her teeth as a result.
Kaylie Calls For Help
Alan has not been paying any bills or buying groceries. The TV goes out, and there is no more food. Kaylie tries telling Alan to get groceries and get their mom a doctor. He doesn’t seem to care. Kaylie decides to talk to her mother only to realize that she’s now a wild creature chained to the wall. Alan gets furious with the kids and grounds them. The kids try calling various doctors but constantly get the same voice asking them to tell their father to make the call. The two realize that there is something extremely strange going on. Kaylie tries to get a neighbour for help, but Alan talks to him like it’s nothing at all. Kaylie tells Tim that it’s time to get really brave. She means that busting their way out might be the only option.
Death Of Marie
The house finally loses power. Tim tries to get his dad to fix it and is greeted by Marisol. Tim freaks out and runs upstairs. At a later time, Tim peeks into the room to see that his dad looks into the mirror and then takes the gun out and loaded it. The kids decide that the mirror is the root of all evil and they need to smash it. But they are faced by Marisol and they run back up to their rooms. Alan goes up to Marie’s room and releases her. She goes banging on the kids’ door. Kaylie instructs Tim to run for the stairs and she goes out and clobbers Marie with a golf club. Tim runs down and Kaylie jumps on to the outside lawn from the window. Inside, Alan goes after Tim and fires a shot. Kaylie hears this and goes in, she finds Alan hiding and he’s signaling to get out. Marie attacks Kaylie and begins to choke her. For a small moment, Marie is back to her senses but Alan shoots and kills her. The kids run and try to smash the mirror but are hitting the wall instead. They realize that the mirror won’t allow them.
Death Of Alan
Alan enters the room and points the gun at Kaylie. He beings to say what the mirror tells him. Tim hits the gun out of Alan’s hands. Alan tries to choke Kaylie, Tim gets the gun and holds it to Alan. He stops choking Kaylie, turns around and get on his knees, puts his hands on the trigger. Alan is back to his senses (just like Marie) for a short bit and he asks Alan to run and pulls the trigger.
The cops show up and declare that this was a case of a domestic violence where a husband has brutally killed a wife and his son retaliated by killing him. Tim is put into a psychiatric institution and Kaylie is taken to a foster home. Kaylie screams to Tim asking him to remember to keep the promise of killing the mirror. As he’s driven away, at the window, he sees both his dead parents staring at him.
After 11 Years, The Present Day
11 years go by. Tim completes his treatment. The movie begins with a dream sequence where young Tim and Kaylie are at gunpoint and the shooter is Tim. We aren’t shown what the treatment has been like but this seems to be a defining moment to release Tim from his custody. Tim believes, or wants to believe, that what he saw as a kid was merely his young brain creating an elaborate ghost story to cope with the events of his parents’ murders. Kaylie is left all alone in the foster home. She grows old there and their house is now transferred to her. She lives with her fiancee in a different house. In the time that has passed, she has been researching on the mirror to find out that weird and ghastly things have happened to the owners of this mirror. She locates the mirror via the auction company she works in and gets it taken to the old house. There is a short moment where the mirror plays tricks with Kaylie at the auction house (with the blanket-clad disappearing ghoul, the mirror clearly likes to mess around). When Tim comes out Kaylee receives him. She reminds him of their promise to kill the mirror.
In the night Kaylie has a nightmare of her father choking her, she wakes up screaming. Next day, she has Tim come over to the old house where the mirror is back, and Kaylie has set up cameras, screens, plants, food, water and a trip mechanism connected to a 20-pound Danforth anchor. Kaylie thinks she needs to ensure that in case they die, the trip mechanism will cause the mirror to be shattered. She has also asked her fiancee to call on the hour to check on her. If he doesn’t get a response he is to call the police. She begins recording and goes through a list of people who have owned the mirror and their fates. Tim doesn’t believe her because he truly feels that their experiences were just imagination. They argue about their dog and how it perished. Tim says that their dad was a homicidal maniac and killed their mother and that he was having an affair. Kaylie disagrees because their mother had lost her mind when she died. Tim releases Kaylie’s sacrificial dog.
It Begins … Again
For the remainder of the film, the mirror essentially toys around with the two of their minds, makes them run around like children and annihilates them. Kaylie first sees that the cameras have gotten into a position facing each other. When they play the recorded footage, they see that the two of them move the cameras but can’t remember doing it. This would have been an ideal time to bail on the plan and run out, but they don’t. They can’t. They don’t know it yet, but they are already screwed. Tim leaves the house to make a call but can’t get a network. He is suddenly back in the house. He only imagines exiting. They go back in to arrange the cameras. Tim is seeing an image on the screen completely different from what’s going on. This scene is enough to say that, you can’t believe the electronics if your mind is being played around with. Kaylie gets a call from her fiancee checking on her, looks like there is no way to know it’s him. The plants begin to rot as well.
An Apple A Day
Slowly the lights start going out. Tim starts seeing flashes of the past. As Kaylie is fixing bulbs, she picks up an apple and bites into it, only to think she’s bitten into a bulb and is bleeding. Soon she snaps back and sees that it’s indeed the apple. Both their minds are beginning to wander.
Memories Of The Past
Both of them begin to start seeing the past play out in front of them. The event of their mom becoming crazy, the doctor calls, etc. Tim finds himself upstairs and Kaylie is standing in front of the mirror, daydreaming. Just before the timer trips she snaps back and resets it. She begins getting frustrated and breaks a vase with a dead plant in it. Tim sees his younger self who goes down to ask his dad to fix the electricity issue and sees Marisol. The house loses electricity and Kaylie begins to turn on the battery operated lamps. Upstairs, she sees a chain and broken plates and tells herself that it’s not real. As she gets back down, she sees more pieces of a broken plate. When she looks through her phone, the floor is clear. Suddenly dead Marie appears and Kaylie stabs her with a piece of the plate she’s holding. Soon she sees that it’s her fiancee she has stabbed. The piece in her hand is not from a plate but from the vase. Now there is a 50-50 chance that the fiancee is actually in the house and dead. It could be that he’s tried reaching Kaylie, didn’t get through and shows up at the house. But it might be good to assume that all that is happening in the house are mirages. The mirror is projecting visions in their minds to get them to do things.
The 911 Call
The two of them run out and Tim calls 911. A point to note here is that this call goes through (the cops show up, in the end, saying Tim made the call). The mirror has already planned their fates, it’s just executing it. Tim now says that they just have to wait till the trip goes off and the mirror is shattered. It’s not that simple. The lights come back on and they see their doppelgangers inside the room standing in front of the mirror. The two are confused now if what they’re “seeing” from the outside is an illusion or them “being” outside is the illusion. Tim places another call to 911. He hears the old voice asking their father to call the doctor. Kaylie stomps on the phone. The two are convinced that a call never went through and go back into the house. They see their doubles at the mirror with Marisol walking up to them talking in their dad’s voice.
Reliving The Nightmare
Kaylie sees that Tim is now a kid again and running up in fear. She remembers running up with him in the past for similar events. They are back up in the room and haunted by their ghastly mom. Tim realizes that this is just a replay of older events. He goes out and sees his dad with a gun and fires at him. Kaylie, like in the past, is now outside and runs indoors when she hears the gun. She sees her dead fiancee by the mirror. She sees Tim hiding as before and she goes through the events of her mom choking her and dad shooting her mother all over again. Tim sees the events of him finally shooting his dad. He imagines being haunted by ghouls, this is not a memory, this is an illusion currently being projected to instill enough fear in him. Tim wakes up sitting alone by the mirror in the present day, scared.
The Ending Explained. Mirror Wins. Flawless Victory. Fatality!
Tim thinks he is alone in the room. He can’t see Kaylie. She is in the room too. The illusion being projected in her head is that of her younger-self looking into the mirror to see her mom who’s calling out. Young Kaylie goes to the mirror and hugs her mom. In reality, the present day Kaylie is standing in front of the mirror, hugging it. Tim is not seeing this. In his fear, he sees an opportunity to destroy the mirror. He runs to the timer and turns it to zero. The anchor drops and gets Kaylie at the back of her neck. She dies. Tim sees Kaylie only after the anchor hits her.
All Is Lost
The cops arrive and see the footage. Tim recollects all the events as they happened 11 years back. It’s happening again. This time Kaylie is dead. They shouldn’t have messed with that mirror. Tim is arrested as the cops only see Tim killing Kaylie in the recordings. As Tim is driven away, he remembers his promise to his sister which he’s not been able to keep. At the window, this time, he sees his dead parents and now Kaylie too staring at him as the film comes to an end.
Plot Explanation: Psychological Thriller
Remember we talked earlier about two approaches to this film. This one is seeing all of the events as simply illusions of a deranged family. It will be short and not a lot of fun, which is why it’s at the end of the article. Consider this, the mirror is not evil. Alan is a crazy person. He locks up and tortures Marie who, as a result, loses her mind. Alan eventually shoots and kills Marie. The kids are young and create an elaborate ghost story to deal with this. In this version, their dog just falls sick and dies during one of the trips to the veterinarian (this scene exists in the film too). Years later, the kids too become looney and end up being wrapped up in their own illusions. Tim kills Kaylie because of this. No ghosts, no evil mirror. Just a family with looney genes. The End.