Monday, February 11, 2013

Sinister

From the makers of...some other horror movies that you may or may not have liked, nor even remember, comes Sinister, the tale of a true crime author who moves his family into a new house in order to get close to a ghastly murder that took place there not too long ago.

In a shocking twist, he researches the book without incident, publishes it and goes on to live a long and successful life.

Or maybe not. Some mayhem may have occurred.

Ethan Hawke plays the true-crime writer in question, who achieved success early on with a great true-crime book, but then followed it up with two apparently poorly researched and misleading tomes, causing local sheriff Fred Thompson to explain that they don't want no trouble around these here parts.

Probably my favorite parts of this movie were Thompson's sheriff and Vincent D'Onofrio Skype-ing it in as a professor of the occult. (It's a classic low budget movie trick to bring in some name stars for near-cameos they can shoot in one day, and I always like spotting that.)

Anyway, Hawke moves his family into the scene of the crime without telling his wife that's what it is—and as cliché as that is, the movie handles it very well, and in a fairly amusing fashion. Juliet Raylance plays the long-suffering wife appealingly, which gives the whole get-the-story/don't-get-your-family-killed tension more life than it usually has.

The story has nice mystery overtones: The crime in question involves an entire family being killed (hanged from a tree) except for the youngest child who has gone missing. But Hawkes' investigations lead to him tracking down a bunch of similar murders, taking place over decades, all with the same footprint: Family is killed (all at once), youngest child goes missing.

Toward the end of the second act, we learn a critical detail that's brushed over, but which instantly told me how the movie was going to end. (Although I'm not a big "try to guess how it ends" guy, horror movies are kind of based on the whole "how can they ever survive?" tension, so sometimes the ends are obvious.)

I didn't mind that aspect. There were only two things that really bugged me about this movie. One is that while children can be scary, just having them tilt their chins down while looking up (a la Stanley Kubrick) doesn't really cut it.

More importantly, the catalyst for the movie is this: Hawke is rummaging around in the attic and comes across a bunch of home movies. Home movies of murders. Hawke immediately calls the cops, but hangs up before actually reporting this valuable cache of evidence.

So far, so good. It's dodgy, at best, but he's very ambitious and seems to think losing his shot at fame would be the worst thing imaginable.

But here's the thing, at various points in the movie, the found films expand to include footage of him, in what are essentially impossible ways. At that point, the only logical conclusion is that: a) he's being haunted by a very technologically savvy supernatural force; b) somebody has such good access to his house, they can mess with him with impunity.

Neither of those things logically prompts a reaction of "well, let's just see how this plays out", no matter how freakin' ambitious you are. You can pull that kind of thing off if you have a Jack Torrance/Shining thing going on, where the guy is losing his mind, but it broke an otherwise carefully constructed sense of reality for me.

Also, there wasn't any reason for them to move to the house at all, given he never left it. I mean, you'd move there if your plan was to go around and interview people about the crime, but he finds all he needs in the attic—something he straight up acknowledges is impossible. (The attic is completely empty except for this box of films.)

That's really a minor point, another low budget movie convention. (You save a lot of money not bringing in a bunch of cast and locations.)

Actually, I could go on and on about the little things like that, but these Paranormal/Insidious type films aren't about the logic. It's good atmosphere, a few good shocks, a better than average plot, and probably slightly sub-par in terms of boogens. (That is, they're not very scary, memorable or creepy.)

Not real violent. Gore is implicit. The film violence in particular shows little but is awful by implication. And the implications are very dark and well in the horror literature tradition for nihilism, so even if you like your horror movies spookier than gory, you may not like this. (Also: children are involved. That's a no-no for a lot of folks.)

Otherwise, check it out.

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