Friday, October 4, 2013


31 Days of Horror: Day 4
"From the producer of Paranormal Activity and Insidious"?  Does that mean that Sinister is not a slasher film or remake, but *gasp* another new, suspense-driven horror flick?  Well, that remains to be seen.  I do like the change of pace we've seen over the last few years, away from cheap scares and toward better-acted and -directed horror films.  I'm not saying that we're in a horror renaissance or anything --- a lot of crap movies are still being made --- but I am seeing more types of horror, with varying levels of quality, and I like that.  Of course, these new IPs have already spawned multiple crappy sequels, but that's a problem for another time.
Ellison () is a true-crime writer that is a few books past his prime.  His specialty is to investigate cold cases and then speculate wildly, often throwing local police under the bus in the process.
His other hobbies include having the audience watch him watch something on the screen
If that doesn't make him charming enough, he is what all authors in movies are: a heavy drinker.  Ellison has just moved his family, wife Tracy (), son Trevor () and daughter Ashley (), into a new home in a small town where there is a major unsolved murder case.  Four members of a family were found hanged to death in their backyard; the fifth member of the family, a young daughter, disappeared without a trace.  There were no real clues in the case and no suspects.  The upside to the murders is that Ellison got his house very cheap.  That's right...he bought the murder house.  Logically, that shouldn't make a difference.  But in Sinister, it does.  While investigating/moving his crap into the house, Ellison comes across a box of Super8 home movies.
"Super8 tapes...this will definitely help me with the murder that happened in 2011!"
Despite the odds of these tapes being useful, Ellison finds footage of the murder.  Not the kind that points to a killer, mind you, but more like the snuff film variety.  But there's more.  There are three other tapes, showing three other family massacres, dating back to the mid-sixties.  The more Ellison studies the films and investigates the different murder cases, the more Ellison notices similarities.  These are all families being killed, there are no suspects or clues in any of the murders, and the youngest child in each family is never found.  Oh, and a dude with a creepy face keeps showing up in the background of the scenes and in the drawings of the missing children.
Mr. Boogie appears to be naked
If that's not creepy enough for you, how about this?
He's being haunted by Slipknot?
But how can the same person have killed all those people over such a wide stretch of time?  What is happening to the missing children?  Are we looking at an elderly serial killer, or a legacy of murder being passed on from generation to generation?  Or is it something more *groan* Sinister?

The acting in Sinister relies heavily on the performance of .  That's not a huge surprise, since the movie is essentially watching him watch home movies.  Hawke is pretty good, though; he's certainly not likable, but he did a good job showing fear slowly creep up.  The rest of the family was an afterthought in the script, but it is worth noting that 's character was right 100% of the time; she didn't have a juicy role, but there is something to be said for being the voice of logic and reason in a horror movie, even if it is a thankless task.  The kids were just kids.
...and just kids are just creepy
Performance-wise, they were adequate.  My only takaway is that needs a damn haircut.  makes a brief appearance as an unfriendly sheriff, and I guess he was fine.  I was a bit surprised to see playing the part of the deputy; Ransone seems to specialize in weasely characters, so it was nice to see him try something new, even if his character wasn't particularly interesting. Slightly more effective was Vincent D'Onofrio's cameo as a college professor, if only because his post-Law & Order speech cadence really lends itself to somewhat windy knowitalls. 

Sinister was directed and co-written by .  His work in this film marks both the movie's strengths and weaknesses.  On the plus side, Derrickson did a great job building up suspense and creating a creepy haunted house vibe.  However, that is only effective because of how creepy the Super8 snuff films are and some impressive sound effects.  The script itself is a bit of a mess, as it seems torn between wanting to be a true crime mystery with the haunted house being a side effect of Ellison's drinking and being a straight-up supernatural horror movie.
Similarly, is this frightening, or is she doing an impression of a handicapped person?
I thought the final decision as to what direction the movie was going in came too late, which makes some bits confusing in retrospect, unless you're satisfied with the explanation *waves hands* MAGIC.  Derrickson is also not much of a stickler to details.  For instance, all of the "Mr. Bogey" pictures looked like they were drawn by the same person, instead of by several different children, decades apart.  And then there's Ellison's note-taking skills, where he wastes most of a page with a very basic question, just so the camera can see it being written.  Those are fairly nit-picky problems, I know, but it's not like I'm asking where the killer found Super8 film to record the most recent killings.  Oh, that's right: MAGIC. 
Murder victims are the next howling wolves for hipster T-shirts

And that's really too bad.  Sinister comes very, very close to being a cool movie.  The home videos are disturbing.  There is atmosphere and tension.  The villain has a cool look to him.  And then the story settles for a supernatural explanation and starts throwing in all sorts of cheap scares.  You know what would have made this movie better?  Not having a goddamned bogeyman as the culprit.  Someone kidnapping small children, raising them to be killers, and then watching them pay it forward would have fit this movie far better than some sort of shadow demon that kills people because of arbitrary property lines (a much-abbreviated explanation, but essentially accurate).  Still, just thinking about those 8mm videos creeps me out, so it's not a total loss.

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