Sunday, 21 October 2012

Sinister (2012)

'Sinister' is promoted as being “From the producer of Paranormal Activity and 'Insidious'”. Well this more or less sums up what you will get with Scott Derrickson's film. It is a crossover over of two sub-genres of the horror movie - the found footage and the haunted house.

While Paranormal Activity could also be included into this hybrid that film was seen entirely through the found footage angle. I find the majority of this new wave of horror to be rather dull (not all, the original Paranormal Activity is one of the exceptions with some innovative techniques on display). When I am watching from the POV of a character from the perspective of their video camera just all the old tricks are played out - shadowy figures appearing behind fellow companions accompanied by loud sounds etc. Rather than feeling I am being put right there in the dire situations that these characters are in I find it all to be just immensely tedious. There are other exceptions of course, like for example namely the forerunners to this horror fad - 'Cannibal Holocaust' (1980) and 1999's 'The Blair Witch Project' (itself using the former title as a structural influence), which were both so potently powerful from what really looked and felt like raw real life footage that we really felt in their depictions the decline of the human condition of our protagonists. This is compared to the generally more polished efforts of the new batch of found footage borefests that pollute cinemas on a prolific basis.

'Sinister' is similar to 'Cannibal Holocaust' in the respect that it is not wholly of the found footage type of filmmaking and employs traditional cinematography as well with the haunted house elements. It is actually though the super 8 found footage scenes that are the main highlights here with some truly disturbing imagery aided by mildly effective haunted house jump scares here and there and featuring a strong performance from its lead Ethan Hawke. However, all of this just about gives the movie a pass when taking into account the hackneyed screenplay with its plodding narrative. There are no real surprises here breaking no new ground with the icing on the so so tasting cake being some rather rubbish and uninspired CGI effects, a couple of so called twists you will see coming a mile off and the obvious shot at creating a new horror icon with franchise intentions - Bughuul/Mr. Boogie.

True crime novelist Ellison Oswalt (Hawke) intentionally moves in with his unknowing family - wife Tracy (Juliet Rylance), Son Trevor (Michael Hall D'Addario) and little daughter Ashley (Clare Foley) - into a house where a family were murdered just months earlier for research for his new book. We see the murders in the opening shot of the film filmed on somebody's camera as four members of the family are hung from a tree with bags over their heads. An unseen person saws off a limb of the tree which is being used as a counterweight that sends the family up strangling them all. However, a fifth member of the family a little girl is missing. Finding a box in the attic, Ellison finds several reels of super 8 film all labeled as family home movies. Captured on each piece of film after what is just that  - happy family times - are the grisly murders of the families including the family that lived in the house previously. The titles of each home movie are some how related to how the families are killed and the youngest child of each  family is missing. The earliest reel entitled 'Pool Party '66' is what really unsettles Ellison as he sees a dark demonic looking figure and after which, strange goings on start to happen around the house. 

Continuing his research watching the films he discovers symbols painted around the murder scenes and that this demon like creature actually appears in every movie. He asks a favour from a local police deputy (James Ransone) to find out the locations of the murders and who after going through all the images Ellison has collected together refers him to a local professor named Jonas (Vincent D'Onofrio in an uncredited cameo) whose background is in the occult and demonic phenomena and whom Ellison converses with on the internet. Jonas tells Ellison that the symbols are of a Pagan deity called Bughuul, who the missing children have nicknamed Mr. Boogie evident from their drawings Ellison comes across. From here, the terrifying situation Jonas has put himself and his family in escalates.

Of course, it is Ellison's daughter Ashley who makes contact with the missing little girl of the murdered family that lived in the house before, and of course Ellison just so happens to meet somebody who  can put him in touch with someone who just so happens to be an expert in what Ellison is experiencing. Bughuul exists simply to connect the dots together as to why all this is happening and is nothing more than an antagonist with ongoing series potential. Mr. Boogie's “sinister” visage and outfit gives him a very mystic elusive quality and I can see why your average teenage franchise horror fan would lap him up. On top of all this, the two twists fail miserably as they are so obvious it is insulting.

'Sinister' is a good looking movie and Derrickson is a capable director... capable of a lot more than doing what he can with labored material such as this (he is actually guilty of a co-write here). He is no auteur but I would not like to call him a hack either as Scott Derrickson is more of a talent-for-hire at getting the best out of a shitty situation. 'Hellriaser: Inferno' (2000) is by  no means good but is one of the better efforts of the DTV sequels of that terminally ill franchise. He can do so much better than both of these films though and he has made something of significant importance. 'The Exorcism of Emily Rose' (2005) is one of the finest examples of the exorcism sub-genre almost on a par with William Friedkin's magnificent milestone 'The Exorcist' (1973) and is one of the very best Hollywood modern horrors. More of this please, Scott, and stay away from the cash grabbers from now on. 
** out of *****

Dave J. Wilson
©2012 Cinematic Shocks, Dave J. Wilson - All work is the property of the credited author and may not be reprinted or reproduced elsewhere without permission.

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