Oculus: written by Mike Flanagan, Jeff Howard, and Jeff Seidman; directed by Mike Flanagan; starring Karen Gillan (Kaylie Russell), Brenton Thwaites (Tim Russell), Katee Sackhoff (Marie Russell) and Rory Cochrane (Alan Russell) (2014): Competent horror thriller that uses some fairly effective narrative tricks rather than ‘found-footage’ for its scares. It’s not easy to make a seemingly haunted mirror into a worthy antagonist, but Oculus manages this feat.
The leads are all solid, the reality-bending games are sometimes startling, and the stupid decisions made by Karen Gillan’s character are totally explicable within the cinematic universe. She has motivation for how she does what she does, and all motivation in the film is suspect: the mirror manipulates people subtly as well as through illusions. If only someone had brought a fire extinguisher. Recommended.
Land of the Dead: written and directed by George Romero; starring Simon Baker (Riley Denbo), John Leguizamo (Cholo DeMora), Dennis Hopper (Kaufman), Asia Argento (Slack), Robert Joy (Charlie), Eugene Clark (Big Daddy) and Joanne Boland (Pretty Boy) (2005): George Romero’s fourth Dead movie gave him a mostly name cast and a decent budget; Romero’s own quirky muse caused him to use these things on what wasn’t a horror movie at all, or at least not the horror movie the studio thought it would be getting.
Instead, Land of the Dead is part-satire, part-social commentary. The zombies aren’t really the villains any more: indeed, they don’t seem to have any interest in hunting humans until the humans piss them off. And piss them off, they do. I don’t know that the movie benefitted from having known actors in some of the roles, though I am sure that this was necessary to secure funding. Dennis Hopper just seems miscast as a scheming businessman, but Leguizamo, Baker, and Asia Argento are all fine. But the real hero is the massive zombie (former) gas-station owner dubbed Big Daddy. He’s the Robinson Crusoe of zombies. Recommended.