Saturday, 6 October 2012

[Review] Sinister - Paranormal Art-ivity

Found footage helps a true-crime novelist realize how and why a family was murdered in his new home, though his discoveries put his entire family in the path of a supernatural entity. 

It's October, which of course means all the horror movies are wheeled out with a half decent shot at box office success. I am rather partial to the horror genre, with the exception of some real stinkers (Apollo 18, The Devil Inside,) there is usually a level of campy enjoyment to be found. Even that enjoyment lies in the nature of watching people watch the film. But alas every so often, amongst all the haunting, slasher, zombie, exorcism and Paranormal goings on, a spark of creativity creeps in. Recently America has been letting slip, leaving it to the rest of the world to fill the void (see - Kill List, Berberian Sound Studio, [Rec.], The Orphanage, Martyrs) hence the message of this years Cabin in the Woods. Last years Insidious came close, what was a very effective and at times downright terrifying opening half gave way to well... the films mental last forty minutes, queue weird slapstick and Darth Maul.

Well enter Sinister, by Apple inc. Errr I mean Emily Rose director Scott Derrickson which despite it's problems, leads the charge of the Halloween releases as a surprisingly complex gem on the dangers of the horror genre. 

'And this is us after the family visit to Blackpool.'
Ellison Oswalt, played by a convincing and gruff Ethan Hawke is a struggling true-crime novelist, who reckons he's stumbled onto the story of a missing girl so good that it will reignite his struggling career and push him back on easy streak. So, he packs up his family as well as a few extra copies of his successful 'Kentucky Blood' and moves the family into the house of the missing girl. Only to discover a box of 'Home movies' in the attic, and as you'd expect, a surge of activities of the paranormal variety begin to happen to Ellison and his family. 

If I had to describe Sinister in a word, it would be messy.  The film is filled to the brim with ideas, scares, characters and plot-lines that would normally cripple a film of it's genre, but here it all amounts to a film of its own creation. It's as if Derrickson chucked everything at the wall (or projector screen) and see what stuck, and as luck would have it, most of it. 

Jump scares and creepy kids aside, Sinister is actually a well handled meta-film about the dangers of  horror films much like the magnificent Berberian Sound Studio I reviewed last month, but a much warmer and accessible film. Oswalt is a man drained by his own work, studying and recording horrific crimes and murders, creating a rift between himself from his family. He spends most of his time in his office, locked at all times to stop his children from seeing what he sees for fear of nightmares. When he discovers the tapes curiosity gets the better of him, and he gradually becomes obsessed with the gruesome sights projected onto the screen, he puts his family and himself much at risk. It's not necessarily a found footage film, but it incorporates the style very tidily into the narrative, and who doesn't love the look of Super 8? More so, the film is equally about the changing technology within film making, our new HD cameras and the weightless, possibly indestructible computer files they reside on. Brought to us by copious amounts of close ups of the Apple logo, of course. There is a sense of adaptation, or dare I say it - a new, digital evil to be found in the film's boogie man.

Perhaps the film's most crippling issue is it's scare tactics. Relying to heavily on cliches and jump scares, any tension the film racks up doesn't really last long once the scenes over, let alone after you've left the screening. Still, it's not without it's moments, a fantastic sequence involving one of the dogs from the Omen and the children of the corn is elevated thanks to the films distinct soundtrack, and overbearing lighting set up. As for the boogie man himself, well... he's got a pretty stupid looking face so he comes across somewhere between Michael Myers and a WWE wrestler, but I'd be lying if I said he didn't make my heart thud at least. 

Meanwhile at the Josef Fritzl Cine-kids club.

Else where there are scenes that are just downright weird, James Ransome's believer 'Deputy So-and-So' from the county police department, for example is one of the (perhaps unintentionally) creepiest characters I've seen all year, there is a certain slyness in the naivety of his voice. And watching the scene where Oswalt asks him for help is well... weird. There is also a peculiar sequence involving some missing ghost kids dancing around the house, invisible to the eye of bat-wielding Oswalt, which just seemed a little off... even the audience began to chuckle after the initial jump scare.

At 110 minutes, Sinister is long for a film of its type. And while it holds its own, rarely dragging, it could shed a few scenes. There is too much of Oswalt storming around the house armed with a baseball bat, and his family are sidelined for the most part save a through away lines and false scares. And the shock ending that you'd expect from this type of film feels rather cheap, especially since it's easily figured it out within the first 10 minutes. 

Ultimately Sinister pays off as a chaotic explosion of horror and technology, just a few memorable scares away from being a minor classic. Instead it settles for the perfect Halloween cinema experience; smart, engaging and enjoyable but ultimately forgettable. 


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