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Gillan plays with perceptions in ghostly thriller 'Oculus'

| Sunday, April 13, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

A haunted mirror, a murderous father and two siblings seeking revenge form the plot for the new supernatural thriller “Oculus,” which blurs perceptions and reality with ghostly scares.

“Oculus,” out in the United States and Canada on April 11, follows a young woman, Kaylie, who reunites with her brother Tim after his release from an institution where he was held for a decade for killing their father, who had murdered their mother.

Kaylie is convinced that a large, ornate mirror in their home caused the mental instability and subsequent demise of her parents, and is determined to clear her father's name of murder by proving the mirror is haunted by a manipulative entity.

“Kaylie is not running from the entity, she's running to it, and the worse it gets, the more happy and excited she gets because it's verifying everything that she believed, so it's just counteracting everything that we're used to,” says British actress Karen Gillan, discussing her character.

The film flits between past and present, and what is real is constantly called into question as the two siblings try to right a heinous wrong. In one particularly unsettling scene, Kaylie bites into an apple, only to find it's a light bulb.

“To play with who's sane, who's insane, we start off thinking that Kaylie is completely together and then we gradually think that maybe she's totally unhinged,” Gillan says.

“It's all about perception because that's what the mirror plays with,” she adds.

“Oculus” is the latest release from producer Jason Blum's Blumhouse Productions, the company behind the runaway success of “Paranormal Activity,” a film made for $11,000 that grossed $193 million at the worldwide box office, spawning a franchise for Paramount Pictures, which distributed the films. Five “Paranormal Activity” films have grossed $807 million globally.

The “Paranormal” franchise deals with a supernatural demonic entity that haunts the interconnected families featured in each film, and has set off a new wave of ghostly horror films.

“Horror movies have gotten much more supernatural-focused, and I think that's what the trend is at the moment, but I think, at some point, it'll swing back to more real, horrible events,” Blum says.

Blum said the budget for “Oculus,” which will be distributed in the United States and Canada by Relativity Media, is on par with his other successful recent horror films “Sinister,” “Insidious” and “The Purge,” placing it between $1.5 million and $3 million.

“Oculus” is expected to take in $13 million at U.S. and Canadian theaters in its opening weekend, according to Boxoffice.com. Relativity paid $2.5 million for domestic distribution rights.

Scotland native Gillan, 26, had her breakthrough role in 2010, playing Amy Pond on British time-travel sci-fi television series “Doctor Who,” an experience that she called “my three years of drama school.”

Since then, she has been cast as the villain Nebula in the upcoming Marvel film “Guardians of the Galaxy,” a role that she shaved her long red hair for.

“The female villain in the film, that is something I've never done before, it's brand-new territory, and I just thought I'm going to have some fun with this,” the actress says.

In addition to shaving her head, Gillan trained for two months to get into the physical shape of Nebula, a sadistic assassin employed by super-villain Thanos. She says she is fascinated by human behavior and psychology.

“Finding the motivation for her to be the baddie is quite interesting. It's like being a lawyer, finding the redeeming features so that she's not just bad for the sake of being bad,” she says.

“And it's just fun to play the baddie,” she adds with a laugh.

Piya Sinha-Roy is a staff writer for Reuters. Reuters staff writer Lisa Richwine contributed to this story.

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