On watching Occulus

I watched the movie Occulus last night and was very disappointed. There will be gentle spoilers in this status, so if you haven’t seen it you might want to move on.

I watched it because I sort of like horror movies, and it starred Karen Gillan and Kaytee Sackhoff. They were both pretty good, though Gillan was a little flat for much of it (though that was her character). So that part was OK.

What I didn’t like was how predictable it was. It is one of my pet peeves about horror that they are so tied to convention that every step, even the jump scares, are so telegraphed that you could write the movie before you’ve watched it. Even the “unconventional” ones like this one was supposed to be.

The biggest problem here for me is the use of a Chekhov’s Gun. In short, playwright Chekhov said, “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired.”

Most playwrights will stick to this rule like glue, to the point that it has become a running joke in my family. If a person on the screen is shown rolling a joint and puts it in her pocket, I’ll yell out, “Chekhov’s Doobie” and low and behold, it’ll be smoked by the next act.

This movie has a massive Chekhov’s Gun shown fairly early on. The conventional horror film makes sure it goes off and in a big way. The semi-conventional horror film makes sure it goes off but somehow misses. The unconventional horror film plays with your expectations about the gun, puts folks in grave danger because of it, but finds a plausible way to keep it from ever going off.

Occulus is a completely conventional horror film. They do play with expectations somewhat, but only as a means to foreshadowing what we all know will happen when the gun goes off, and it does go off, predictably and with the expected depressing outcome.

I wanted this to be an unconventional horror film. I wanted it to give me somethigng new, but instead it gave me the same old, same old, and wasted the performances of several good actors, and that was depressing.

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