Overanalyzing Oculus: How to Survive a Haunted Mirror

I recently went to see the new "haunted mirrors killed my family" horror film, Oculus.

If you care about the outcome of mediocre horror movies, turn back now.

Now, let's get something straight here. I don't go into horror movies expecting to be blown away by their rich plots and subtle character development. I'm really just in it to watch unknown blonde actresses get startled by no-budget ghosts with hastily shat-out flimsy backstories. If I can make it to the end of the movie with at least a general idea of what's going on and why everyone is dead, I'm pretty much content. 


So... it's a mysterious ghost named Toby that loves little boys and has been following you since childhood, despite the fact that you're childless and you apparently forget you're haunted until 3/4 of the way through the movie? Sure.

So I can forgive a lot of plot holes. I can forgive The Ring for its ridiculous timeline, which suggests that Samara was sent to therapy after being brutally drowned in a well. I can forgive Mama, for expecting me to believe that no one thought to look for two missing little girls in a cabin a few metres from where their father's car was found, and for expecting me to believe that a mentally ill ghost can raise two strong, healthy, strapping children on nothing but a diet of cherries. I can forgive The Uninvited for having a family of characters who apparently don't consider their disturbed, newly-discharged daughter's habit of talking to her dead sister a cause for alarm, and I can forgive the entire Grudge series for existing. What I cannot forgive is sheer, unbridled stupidity.

And Oculus has stupidity to spare.

Fun for the whole family!


Oculus starts out as an enthralling story about a brother and sister struggling to understand whether or not their memories of their parents' deaths were real, or just a scary story they made up to cope with the monster their father became, and quickly deteriorates into a mess of jump scares, screaming, indecipherable timelines and lightbulb-munching, which quickly confirm that yes, this mirror is 100% genuine. The main plot - a generous use of the term - revolves around sister Kaylie's attempt to prove to disbelieving brother Tim and the rest of the world that the mirror killed her family, by trying to capture its supernatural powers on video. In the initial setup, the audience is meant to believe that Kaylie's got everything under control; her plan is so well-thought-out, and so detailed, that there's no possible way she can lose. 

Oh, except if she thought about it for a minute, she'd realize her whole plan was worthless. You see:

1. All of her 'safety' measures are pointless.

Prior to starting her experiment with the mirror, Kaylie sets out a variety of safety measures designed to prevent her from dying a horrible mirror-death. Since the mirror usually drives its victims to forget their earthly needs until they succumb to dehydration, starvation, or especially heinous neglect of personal hygiene, Kaylie sets out hourly alarms that will remind her to eat and drink. She also directs her fiance to call her every hour on the hour, and phone the authorities if she fails to pick up. She records the events of the evening with cameras and monitors that are connected to independent power sources, to prevent the mirror from shutting them off. And finally, because she knows that the mirror can manipulate both people and electrical systems in order to save itself, she rigs up a mechanical system that must be manually re-set every 30 minutes to prevent a yacht anchor from smashing though the wall where the mirror is hung; Kaylie reasons that this will force the mirror to keep her alive, in order to re-set the timer. 

Also, her iPhone can see through ancient ghost illusions. So that's useful.

Yep, Kaylie is all set for a battle of wits with a serial killing pane of glass. Oh, except she's forgetting one little thing.

Absolutely all of her safety measures are useless.

This will not save you from the wrath of the undead.

This mirror works primarily by messing with its victims' sensation of time and space. It makes you see things that aren't there, hear things that aren't real, and experience things differently from how they're actually unfolding. Sure, there's some sort of woman/demon/toothless ghost monster living in the mirror, but she doesn't seem to want to come out unless it is absolutely necessary. Normally, just messing with your perception does the trick. Which means there's a huge problem with Kaylie's "get over here and eat a granola bar" alarm strategy; it only works if Kaylie and Tim are lucid enough to hear it and understand what it means.

To make matters worse, all of Kaylie's various life saving alarms are connected to identical kitchen timers, set to go off at various intervals. They all sound exactly the same. The only way that Kaylie can distinguish the 'shove an apple in your face' alarm from the 'chug this bottle of water' or 'go check on your camera' alarms is to note what time they go off. The moment that the mirror takes away Kaylie's grip on reality, she's going to lose track of what the alarms are telling her to do - and, of course, that's exactly what happens.

"I think that was the 'try on my childhood nightgown' alarm. Yes. Definitely."

Setting up cameras was a useless measure for reasons I will discuss in the next point, but having her fiance phone her at regular intervals was on the right track - the mirror has a limited sphere of influence, and someone standing outside it should be able to intervene before things go too far. It's a good idea... but it was incredibly poorly executed. For one thing, Kaylie's fiance - whose name I forget, and shall henceforth be dubbed Clingy McClingypants - is completely incapable of following directions. He is explicitly told not to investigate if Kaylie fails to answer her phone; he is supposed to phone the authorities and let them deal with it. The other problem is that the mirror is capable of messing with phone lines; this is something Kaylie should be aware of, since it thwarted all her attempts to dial for help as a child. These two shortcomings come together when the mirror tricks Kaylie into missing a phone call and Clingy barges into the house, where he is promptly stabbed to death by his hallucinating beloved with a shard of broken pot.

#foreshadowing!

There is, of course, a much better safety measure at Kaylie's disposal. All she would need to do to ensure her and her brother's safety would be to set up surveillance cameras and an intercom that could be manned by a 3rd party at a different location. She has everything she needs to set it up; it's clear that she knows how to set up electronic devices that the mirror can't mess with, and if she has someone come and install hidden cameras prior to the experiment without telling her where they are, she won't be able to mess with them once her mirror delusions set in. If she found someone more reliable than Clingy to monitor things from a safe distance, someone could step in as soon as things start to go strange, and no one has to die a horrible anchor-related death. Win-win.

2. There's no possible way for her to 'prove' that it's haunted.

If Kaylie really, really wanted to get rid of this mirror quickly, she would have no problem doing it. After all, the mirror is apparently powerless when it's covered, and she has access to the auction house where it's stored; she could push it off its stand and shatter it on the concrete floor if she wanted to, and no one would have to die. But of course, a four-minute clip of a woman throwing an antique mirror off the back of a truck doesn't make a very good movie, and so Kaylie sets out to prove, on video, that the mirror is a supernatural murdering entity. 

Here's a question: what's the difference between a videotape of a mentally ill woman acting strangely, and a videotape of a sane woman acting strangely because she's being driven by paranormal delusions that no one else can see? Did you guess nothing? Because it's nothing.

Is this woman nuts, or is she being stalked by a demon? Who knows!

It becomes painfully clear in the first thirty minutes of the movie that there is no possible way for Kaylie to capture proof of the mirror's paranormal properties on video. The first 'supernatural' event that takes place happens when the two siblings step into the next room to have an argument, and return to find that all the cameras in the room have been pushed together, lens-to-lens, so they're no longer focused on the mirror. When they review the tape, however, they realize that they never stepped into the next room to have that argument; they had it while they themselves rearranged the cameras, with no awareness of what they were doing. 

Could have saved yourself a lightbulb snack if you'd quit then.

At that point in the experiment, Kaylie should have pulled the plug and flipped the kill-switch to shatter the mirror, because there is no possible way she'll ever prove what's happening. Every horrifying thing the mirror does to the siblings is completely inside their own heads, a fact that they should quickly pick up on based on that first video clip and the fact that their phone cameras can see through the illusions. A video tape of the evening is going to be less than worthless for proving that the mirror is haunted; an outside observer is just going to see two people acting incredibly strangely, for no discernible reason. 

Even that famous apple/lightbulb switch-up from the trailers is just an illusion. While Kaylie is staring in horror at the bitten lightbulb and feeling blood pouring out of her mouth, her brother sees what actually happened: she's holding a bitten apple and drooling juice all over the floor. If you saw a woman standing there with an apple in her hand, looking at it with absolute horror, you wouldn't take that as evidence that her mind was being controlled by a powerful illusion; you would think she was on meth.

3. She goes out of her way to make the mirror stronger.

Obviously, this mirror can't just whip out its ghost powers and start throwing people off bridges from wherever it damn well pleases. If that were the case, there would be a picture of a mirror on all our currency, since the world would be run by a mean-spirited reflective surface. In order to work, the mirror in Oculus needs two things: time and fuel. The mirror is apparently rendered incapable of murder whenever someone throws a sheet over it, and it requires time to 'warm up' after being uncovered.

Which means you probably shouldn't just stand there and stare at yourself in it.

It also requires fuel, in the form of tasty, tasty living things. Kaylie has her own childhood, as well as 400 years of dead plants, pets and people to back up this theory about the mirror needing to feed. When the mirror is weak, it starts small by preying on houseplants in the immediate area, widening its range of flora devastation as it gains strength. A vegetarian haunted mirror would be nothing short of adorable, so the mirror quickly moves on to household pets, swallowing up family dogs the moment they wander out of their owners' sight. Once the mirror has had its fill of Fido, however, it comes into full strength, and sets its sights on the house's human occupants. 

Kaylie, literally holding a picture of what not to do.

Kaylie, once again, is completely aware of this process. As a child, she watched the family's houseplants wilt, and she witnessed the mysterious disappearance of her dog after being locked in an office with the mirror all afternoon. Her parents both died soon afterwards. She of all people should know better than to bring any living beings into the house with her, to avoid powering the mirror up to full strength.

Nope.

One of the very first things that Kaylie does after hanging up the mirror is set down a terrified, defenseless dog in front of it, dropping a cloth over its cage so that the mirror can devour it in peace. Before the experiment starts, she sets up plants at regular intervals all around the house; this, I can forgive her for, since it gives her a way to track how far the mirror's sphere of influence extends. But purposefully feeding a pet to the mirror to prove a point, even though she knows it will make the mirror dramatically more powerful?

That's just stupid.

4. Her 'failsafe' is complete overkill.

At the end of the day, Kaylie's opponent is a piece of glass. Mirrors are not exactly renowned for their durability. I've broken exactly two mirrors in my lifetime; one was a full-length mirror that I fell into when I was seven years old, and the other was a door-mounted mirror panel that I accidentally shattered with a propeller blade made from the lid of a tin can. It takes several people and large quantities of bubble wrap to even transport the mirror unscathed; a bad packing job and a sudden turn would have been all it took to accidentally break the mirror before the experiment even began. It doesn't take much, is what I'm saying.

How many of you have done this?

Kaylie is smart to put in some kind of failsafe to break the mirror in case she's unable to, but all she really needs for it is some sort of slightly heavy object. A paperweight, perhaps. A golf club would do nicely. An ordinary hammer, a bottle, even a baseball, the proverbial breaker of windows, would do the trick. But of course, none of these objects are dramatic enough for Kaylie. Heavens, no. She decides to rig up 90lbs of pointy boat anchor to the ceiling, capable of delivering enough force to punch through the wall the mirror is mounted on. She knows she's going to be around an object that's capable of messing with her perceptions, and she thinks it's a grand idea to rig up an unstoppable lethal force to her ceiling.

Spoiler alert: it's not.


Had Kaylie chosen a more reasonable (and less deadly) item to suspend from the ceiling, she would have walked away from that little episode with nothing more than some bruising and a serious headache. Instead, she becomes a decorative ornament on the office wall. 

But you know what the real kicker is in all of this? Kaylie doesn't actually know that smashing the mirror will destroy it. It's just an assumption. The glass is already broken; we see right in the beginning that the edge of the glass was cracked from the gunshot that killed their father. Will cracking it again really do the trick? Does the mirror need to acquire a certain amount of cracks before it's officially "dead"? Maybe the mirror's evil is stored in the frame itself. Even if Kaylie hadn't wandered into the path of the anchor, there's no guarantee that her desperate last-ditch effort to destroy the mirror would have done anything more than piss it off.

And that would be a very stupid thing to do.

What's your favourite bad horror movie? Leave it in the comments.

34 comments

  1. Yep i would had just set the cameras up outside the area of influence hell maybe even a room large enough that I could still be in the same room with it and be out of the range of its influence once I found out where that exactly was and then stood there with a high powered rifle maybe a shotgun with a slug just out of range of its influence work couldn't stop me from blasting it to smithereens

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    1. Much safer, and infinitely more satisfying.

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  2. I think what she was really trying to do was filming a supernatural creature stepping out of the mirror. Because if it was me, I would have left the god damned house the first time I get the taste of its power and then find a way to blast it to smitherins, glass and all.

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    1. Yeah, for a woman who spent so much time emphasizing how cunning and dangerous the mirror was, she didn't seem to consider the fact that the mirror might be too smart to unleash its supernatural creature on camera.

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  3. There could have been heaps of better ways of doing it:

    1) Claim the mirror is unbreakable because it has a horrible curse. Place the mirror in a public place and offer a prize to anyone that can break the mirror and brave enough to do so. Say $1,000. Of course keep out of the mirrors influence range.

    2) Put the mirror in a locked or chained up room. or large cage that way you can't access or block the deadly counterweight device. Keep the keys outside the influence range, maybe in the next town. Uncover the mirror with a long string once everything is locked up. (if your lucky/unlucky you wont pull down the mirror and break it)

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  4. Someone that gets why this plot is lame, thank you. I will add... Why didn't she just buy the mirror? She clearly inherited a house and quite a few bucks. It seemed highly probable she would need to break it anyway, so why the false sense of urgency about needing to get the mirror to the auction buyer? And how is it that the mirror ever left her possession, why would she inherit the house, and everything in it, but not the mirror on the wall in the house? It would seem more likely to me that if a supernatural spirit inhabited such a mirror it would be in the wood, not the glass, so breaking the glass could be of no consequence, why did she not consider that? Keeping Clingy in the dark about what she was doing made no sense. How could she expect Clingy to follow such ominous instructions? If she wanted 'proof' she should have contacted some type of professional supernatural investigator, safety in numbers. How is it that the mirror can effect the lights and cell phones, but not the cameras and timers, huh? There had to be some electrical interface between that timer and the boat anchor, her claims that it was entirely mechanical were simply false. She should have paused when it got dark, what numerous safety precautions, but no recognition that your chances of getting mind f&^%ed by a supernatural mirror go up ten fold after dark?

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    1. Exactly, the whole thing was painfully far-fetched. I mean, the mirror is supposed to be 400 years old, there's no way it hasn't been restored in that time. The silver on the back of the glass would tarnish over time, and someone would eventually have to pop out the glass and re-silver the mirror. The frame would be the only part of the mirror that could reasonably survive for hundreds of years intact.

      The sad this is, I actually really liked the initial premise they had going, where you weren't quite sure if the mirror's powers were real, or just a scary story the siblings made up as a coping mechanism. Having them come out and say "Yep, the mirror is real, alright!" just spoiled the only good thing they had going for them.

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    2. She said it sat on the market...and that's not to say she didn't visit right after foster care...but perhaps the furniture and stuff was removed prior to her being released from foster care. It was empty in there. The chain was removed from the wall...someone had been in there restoring the place. And why can't the anchor have been mechanical. The same way the timers tick second by second..so would the timer for the kill switch. And when it reached '0', whatever is inside of a regular timer to keep hitting the bell...is what would have shifted to release the anchor.

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    3. One more thing...sat on the market. Doesn't that mean it was for sale. Realator would've been responsible for removal of all furniture. No one wanted to buy it perhaps due to the gruesome occurrences, so by default it went back to Kaylie?

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  5. This suggestion is probrobly to old to be read but I think every one has it wrong. The minute they took off the sheet they were stuck in front of the mirror till it sucked them dry and decided to kill them. Everything else is just the mirror mind screwing them till it sucked there life force. When the police showed up at the end they only found one body. Thing is the girt had her boyfriend on her phone. Every time they looked in side or seen there mother they were glued to the mirror. I just can't exsplane why it didn't kill the brother.

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    1. P.s. how you beat the mirror is dont stand in front of it to long.

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    2. I like this theory except we know they weren't glued to it all along because they did actually go outside to call the police.

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    3. Yeah i thought the exact same thing. Exceped i know why the mirror kept the brother alive. The mirror new that somone had to be blamed for the murders. And as for the police being called Ebest00 you stupid fuck! The mirror used the bros brain to make the call to 911 with his hand. Not rocket science. The mirror made them think they were out side. It fukn controlled the entire movie.Its coming for u soon be warnd. Lol its just a movie but thanks for sharing ur opinion

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  6. You all must like the horror movies where the characters do everything right, and everything isfi
    ne and dandy at the end of the movie. Lets be real. If the characters in horror movies did do their shit right, then the movies wouldn't be scary in the first place, and they'd be a hell of a lot shorter. So quit bellyaching about a piece of FICTION not making any sense.

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  7. Just watched this for the first time and I find your points totally relevant and well argued. The aspect that I've been dwelling on is the mirror's sphere of influence. The moment the siblings entered the house, they had lost. Since the mirror's powers are distorting perception and time, do you think that the sphere of influence was as powerful from the offset as it was at its peak? The brother picking up the chair to smash the mirror alludes to this idea: he hadn't realised that he had put it down. Initially I thought they should have set off the ott killswitch following the scene (as you said) where she should have twigged that showing footage of 'them' moving the cameras wouldn't prove anything to a stranger, and then left... but I don't think they could have. The mirror duped them into thinking they had the sensation of free will at the start when in fact they didn't.

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    1. True! But what about the call to 911?

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  8. Simple way to get rid of the mirror is face the reflective side to the wall. Then proceed with the smashy smash as hulk would do.

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    1. "Smashy smash" being the official scientific term for such an activity, of course. :P

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  9. Simple way to get rid of the mirror is face the reflective side to the wall. Then proceed with the smashy smash as hulk would do.

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  10. Simple way to get rid of the mirror is face the reflective side to the wall. Then proceed with the smashy smash as hulk would do.

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  11. Cover it, break it with a sledge hammer and the frame move on with life ( can can even gas it and burn whats left). You could also just cover it and drop it in the ocean barnacles will eventually cover it rendering it useless.

    I do think to some extent she was also trying to clear her brother...which explains trying to document the mirror. The safeguard system was heavily flawed though.

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    1. I kind of like the idea of a barnacle-covered mirror rising from the depths of the ocean to kill again. I would watch the shit out of that sequel.

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  12. Shame you didn't get into this film, I actually found it pretty gripping, and the ending to be a very good example of the "there is no hope, and there never was" twist that makes one despair. And the despair goes well with the building dread mood of the film. I think most of your points are irrelevant because a) it's fiction and b) the female character is clearly never quite in her right mind or thinking straight (insane people can also come up with elaborate plans that make sense to them). Leaving aside the issue of why did the mirror ever go missing from the house, everything else falls in line with the mirror exerting a malign influence that the two protagonists can no nothing about. The only way to survive it would have been to stay as far away as possible - but that would not make a movie, would it? What I wanted explored (but I guess that's for a sequel), is why the mirror was cracked by their father's body? Is it because he broke away from its influence in that moment? Because it seems that the mirror puts everyone under its spell if it's strong enough (hence people can't even hit it when standing right in front of it) - so maybe breaking away from the spell actually makes the mirror vulnerable?

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  13. Shame you didn't get into this film, I actually found it pretty gripping, and the ending to be a very good example of the "there is no hope, and there never was" twist that makes one despair. And the despair goes well with the building dread mood of the film. I think most of your points are irrelevant because a) it's fiction and b) the female character is clearly never quite in her right mind or thinking straight (insane people can also come up with elaborate plans that make sense to them). Leaving aside the issue of why did the mirror ever go missing from the house, everything else falls in line with the mirror exerting a malign influence that the two protagonists can no nothing about. The only way to survive it would have been to stay as far away as possible - but that would not make a movie, would it? What I wanted explored (but I guess that's for a sequel), is why the mirror was cracked by their father's body? Is it because he broke away from its influence in that moment? Because it seems that the mirror puts everyone under its spell if it's strong enough (hence people can't even hit it when standing right in front of it) - so maybe breaking away from the spell actually makes the mirror vulnerable?

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    1. It cracked because the force of the gunshot to Alan'Alan's chest. There was no way that the mirror could have protected itself from Alan's body being thrown back by the gunshot.

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    2. It cracked because the force of the gunshot to Alan'Alan's chest. There was no way that the mirror could have protected itself from Alan's body being thrown back by the gunshot.

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  14. Also no way it wouldn't have shattered from Kaylie smashing into it with hundreds of pounds of force dead center... just sayin.

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    1. For real!! The mirror has proved that it can protect itself. If it made sure the weight went into the back of the young lady so it wouldn't get broken what makes you think it couldn't have protected itself from someone being thrown into it?

      The only reason that mirror cracked was because the father came to realisation seeing his crying son holding a gun at him, he got down on his knees and pulled the trigger himself.He broke free of the mirrors influence.That's why the mirror cracked.

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  15. 330am because I have nothing better to do. So I just watched this movie for a second time. Does anyone feel like pain is what brings you back to reality. The first instance in which I observed this was when the father was digging at his finger with a staple remover. He just snapped back. Next...after Kaylie stabbed Clingy. In this case this would be emotional pain. She snaps back to reality. When the mother was choking her daughter...the pain/guilt you felt while ringing your daughters neck, brought you out of a trance. (I can't imagine That the mirror decided "ok that's enough".) The mother broke the trance through pain. & last example is when the father saw the pain in his kid's eyes as his son is holding the gun to him. Again, why would the mirror let up? ESPECIALLY when the father was the most used vessel to carry out the mirrors awful desires.) the kids were not controlled by the mirror...so why would it tell the dad to kneel down and pull the trigger. The pain caused the release from influence of the mirror. Theories?

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    1. I definitely agree.It seems that for a moment, the person breaks free of the mirrors control but then is ultimately killed. The mirror only messed with the kids mind so they wouldn't destroy it but couldn't influence the kids the way it did there parents. When the father came to realization and pulled the trigger on himself that is what cracked the glass. His realization broke the mirrors hold.

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  16. Any theories on why the kids weren't bewitched by the mirror like their parents, but then as adults they were? I'm wondering if it's because, at the beginning, the father was adamant about them staying out of his office before it got a hold on him. Later on, he said they could play video games in his office. I believe that was the mirror trying to "seduce" the kids the way it "seduced" the father.

    I also wonder if it's because kids are innocent, and therefore have no ulterior desires or insecurities. Because it seemed like the mirror fed off of those in particular. The mother's insecurity about her weight a C-section scar. The dad's desires for Marisol and maybe even to have full run and control over his life and household. Once the kids grew up, it used the sister's tenacity about exacting revenge and finding proof. It used the brother's doubt and desire for reasoning as well as both of their shared trauma to finish things off.

    Any other ideas?

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