‘Oculus’ presents a new kind of horror

Jason Blum has a knack for finding and releasing top-notch horror films.

The founder of Blumhouse Productions has overseen the release of such hits as the “Paranormal Activity” franchise, both “Insidious” films, “Sinister” and numerous others. Adding to this collection is writer/director Mike Flanagan’s “Oculus,” which hit theaters on April 11. The film follows a pair of siblings who try to prove that the murder of their father was actually caused by a supernatural power.

Flanagan first had the idea for the film in 2006, when he shot the short the film is based upon: “Oculus: Chapter 3 – The Man with the Plan.”

 

 

“There’s always a hope when you short a film that you might be able to expand the idea,” Flanagan said. “One of the cool things about the mirror is that it’s so portable. There’s so many different kinds of stories we could tell with it and so many places the stories could go.”

Intrepid Pictures founder Trevor Macy found himself fascinated with the idea after a pitch meeting with Flanagan.

“Mike came in and pitched a bunch of things, and it wasn’t really going all that well, but on his way out the door he said, ‘Well … there is this other thing,’” Macy said. “And at that time, I hadn’t seen the short, but he had a germ of an idea and we jumped on board and helped develop the script.”

Blum, unlike Macy, got involved after the film was finished.

“I saw the film when it was finished at Toronto (Film Festival), and I loved it,” Blum said. “It had a similar relation to ‘Paranormal Activity,’ which I saw when it was done and so I was really interested in getting it widely distributed, and so we got together with WWE and Relativity and worked really hard to push it out, because I saw some things in it that I really loved.”

The short the film is based upon features only one man in a room with the mirror. Flanagan says that in order to expand the idea into a feature, he knew that the number of characters and overall story would need to be expanded upon as well.

“The more of an intimate experience you have with the characters the better,” Flanagan said. “We went with siblings instead of a romantic relationship, because the way they communicate is completely different. They can speak their mind; they don’t have to be polite, and you don’t have to set up their relationship in the first act. It lets the characters talk to each other more naturally, and I think sibling relationships aren’t often exploited enough.”

Flanagan says that as a writer, being constantly aware of the balance between character and atmosphere helped make the writing stronger.

“It’s something you’re always aware of, and really something that succeeded about the short,” Flanagan said. “It was always a big priority and hopefully, if you’re able to do it right, the attention you pay to the characters contributes to the atmosphere in that the more invested you make the audience in the characters, the more worried they are that something bad will happen to them.”

Blum says that the collective experience of horror films is a large part of not just what drew him to the film in particular, but the genre as a whole.

“When you make a scary movie and you see a theater full of people unanimously get terrified, it’s very hard to beat,” Blum said. “It’s really satisfying.”

Flanagan agreed.

“I think there’s a real cathartic quality to horror films in that we all know what it’s like to be scared, and I think it’s really exciting to explore that in an environment where you’re in the dark with a group of people but when the lights come up, you’re all safe again.”

Next up on Flanagan’s slate is a second collaboration with Macy in a film called “Somnia,” which is in postproduction.

“It’s a neat film and an idea that I’ve had for a while, so it’s a bit of a sentimental favorite,” Flanagan said. “It’s a very special movie. It’s very scary, very surreal, but it has an emotional quality and a heart to it that I think is very unique among my work and something that I don’t think you find in the genre too often, so I’m very excited to see what people think about it.”

Macy and Flanagan are also collaborating on a picture called “Diver.”

“It’s a script about a guy who can jump into the minds of recently deceased people and relive their final moments. It’s an odd film, but it’s a really fun one,” Macy said.

Blumhouse’s upcoming slate includes a new “Amityville Horror” film as well as the sequel to the 2012 hit “Sinister.”

“The script is done and we’re very close to hiring a director and hopefully we’ll be shooting the movie this summer,” Blum said, “(writer/director duo C. Robert) Cargill and (Scott) Derrickson came back and they really wrote a great script.”

Reach the reporter at seweinst@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @S_Weinstein95