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'Oculus' review: Dealin' with idiots

*1/2 (out of four)

Technically there's no "right" way to investigate your suspicion that an evil mirror was responsible for a family tragedy 11 years ago.

Still, let's say that if you think the mirror eats dogs, don't put a dog in a cage in front of the mirror and then cover the cage with a sheet so you can't see what's going on underneath it. Don't rig a heavy yacht anchor to swing down toward the mirror as a backup plan in case, uh, things go horribly wrong. (Even experienced mechanical engineers should avoid setting up elaborate contraptions involving anchors near the ceiling.) And don't orchestrate a complicated effort to capture the mirror's evil on camera with your brother who was released from a psychiatric facility roughly five minutes ago.

Sadly, Kaylie (Karen Gillan of "Doctor Who") didn't read these tips and believes she's concocted a foolproof plan to expose a supernatural force inside this ominous-looking household item. Her younger brother Tim (Brenton Thwaites of the upcoming "Maleficent" and "The Giver") calls B.S. But he sticks around for Kaylie's potentially delusional experiment, initiated after the young woman tells the mirror, "Hello again; you must be hungry."

Attempting to depict a waking nightmare, director/co-writer Mike Flanagan jumps between present day and the past incident, when dad (Rory Cochrane) grows very protective of his office and mom (Katee Sackhoff) becomes self-conscious about her C-section scar. In the modern scenes, Gillan has too much fun with the role, making Kaylie sassy instead of merely determined and traumatized. Even as the setup goes awry, she and Tim still see the plan as solid. Sigh.

Sometimes unintentionally funny but never scary, "Oculus" bites from any number of movies about confined family members going crazy ("The Shining") and the endless stream of horror flicks about mirrors. The only hook is the stale idea of a force that causes the mind to play tricks on itself. Did Dad just bite his nail off? Did Kaylie bite into an apple or a light bulb?

Trauma can cause unusual behavior and warped perception. Yet "Oculus" proves only that there should be a CarFax-like company for mirrors, so you know if your new home dÈcor was present for a suspicious number of violent incidents. Incorporation pending.

Watch Matt review the week's big new movies Fridays at noon on NBC.

mpais@tribune.com

 

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