starring: katie featherson, kathryn newton
director: henry joost, ariel schulman
It’s pretty hard to find a decent horror movie nowadays without noticing clichéd and overused tropes. Themes like the haunted house, evil spirits, possessed children and the newly popularized “found footage” are everywhere. Sinister, directed by Scott Derrickson, is a successful yet daunting fusion of all these horror film standbys.
Written by Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill, the screenplay is believable and doesn’t fall into the genre’s trap of attempting to scare you at predictable moments. The jumpy thrills are, in fact, unexpected and happen exactly when they need to. The atmosphere is mostly dark, which is one of my complaints about the cinematography because it’s hard to make out what’s happening at times. Nonetheless, it does fit the mental state of the main character.
Played by the underrated Ethan Hawke, Ellison Oswalt is an author of best-selling true crime books. Obsessed with fame and success, Oswalt seems to be living a lie as he tries to convince his family and himself that he is writing for good. Unable to let go of his attachment to images, he seems to be possessed by them, as he obsessively studies them for further validation. This is the game of the classic tale of Faustus: by accepting the devil’s offer, the demonized victims play by sinister rules. Oswalt and Faustus both become victims of evil in order to achieve material success.
The music is perfect for the setting. As the story follows Oswalt’s investigation into his new home’s horrific history, there are few locations in the film besides this seemingly perfect place for a loving family. The score, mostly slow yet unnerving ambient sounds, builds to a mind-shattering climax that resembles a madman’s final break with reality. I think Trent Reznor would feel at home with this film’s soundtrack.
But what affected me the most are the movies within the movie itself. Oswalt finds a series of short films stored away in an attic, labelled with cute little monikers given by what seems to be innocent children. However, as you’ll notice right from the opening credits, they are a family’s hell: all the videos are snuff films – recordings of the murders of happy families.
Sinister fantastically fuses realist drama with the found footage genre, fitting the movie into the postmodern niche called “metafiction.” We, the audience, are in the same position as the protagonist as we both watch the snuff films. As such, there is no distinction between ourselves and Oswalt, and whatever horrors he experiences are our own.
Sinister is horror film at its finest.
Four stars out of five.
starring: ethan hawke, juliet rylance
director: scott derickson
With the Halloween season in full force, the Paranormal Activity franchise has released yet another installment of low-budget horror. It seems the series has hit a creative roadblock, producing a movie that seems like a highlight reel of the first three chapters.
Paranormal Activity 4 begins with a recap of the second film and struggles to find its own identity. Many of the scares feel recycled and predictable, though they still manage to compliment the plot.
The movie centres around a boy named Robbie, who, after his mother is taken to the hospital, is invited to stay with the neighbors for a few days while she recovers. By welcoming Robbie into their home, the family has also, seemingly, invited the demons. The story then follows the traditional Paranormal approach, documenting nightly happenings in the house, though this time with the use of webcam.
The film’s story is similar to its predecessors, which could be either stale or pleasantly familiar for die-hard fans. Consistency can turn into success at the box office, and it has worked for Paranormal Activity three times before.
Paramount recently announced their plans for a fifth episode in the aging horror series, and while the franchise has shown with the latest movie that it still has a few tricks up its sleeve, those tricks are running dry. With the steady decline in both audience and quality, one has to wonder if this film is the beginning of the end for Paranormal Activity.
One and a half stars out of five.