A fine Fiendish Flicks Friday to you, my horror lovin’ hobgoblins! I’m sure that you’ve noticed that I tend to favor writing about older flicks and steer clear of the wide spread and recent in this column. One reason being that I feel slightly less obligated to not drop too many details (but of course try to never ruin a twist ending or big reveal). I figure though that after 10+ years after release, the statute of limitations on your ignorance is up! Especially with iconic films like The Omen, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, etc. This week though I’ve chosen a flick that is a little more recent. A movie that at first glance I shrugged off, lumping it in with the rest of the one word titled, found footage shlock-fests released in the last few years. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not talking about the awesome schlock of the 80’s that you know I love with all my black little heart, I’m talking about the poorly written, overly contrived films that have been churned out using the same premises over and over. Found footage, shaky cams, gaping plot holes and poorly done CGI that yanks you right out of the moment. The movie I’m talking about that rises about the rest of the riff-raff is Sinister.
In 2012, when the film was released, I had heard that found footage was involved and having had more than my fill decided to just skip it. Found footage being the latest gimmick in making lower and lower budget films, which rarely have a truly cohesive or engaging story line. The endorsement that the movie was from the Producer of Insidious and Paranormal Activity didn’t help, 2 films that fell hopelessly flat for me. Then the other day I noticed this flick was on not one, but several, ‘must watch’ horror movie lists and I decided to give it a chance. I admit now that I was flawed in my jaded thinking. As I watched I kept waiting for some expected poorly done element to pop up so I could validate my reasoning for blowing it off before now, like the laughable ending to Insidious (sorry, drag just isn’t scary to me) or breaking the paranormal rules previously set in the film, like in Apartment 143, but it didn’t. I waited and waited, but it never came. As the story went on, I actually found myself become more and more engaged. Imagine my surprise when Sinister turned out to be kind of sinister after all, and though film footage is found, it’s not actually a found footage film.
The movie stars Ethan Hawk, as a True Crime Writer named Ellison Oswalt whose career had floundered a few years after releasing a best seller. Chasing a new story he up roots his Wife Tracy (Juliet Rylance) and his 2 kids, Ashley and Trevor (played by Clare Foley & Michael Hall D’Addario) and move them to a new town. Unbeknownst to his little family is that they didn’t just move to the town where a brutal crime took place, but into the very house where the family before them where hung in the backyard, save for one child named Stephanie who disappeared. Things get interesting when Ellison find a box of film reels, captured on them the murder that took place there, and several other crimes; other families snuffed out. Realizing that the killer had to have brought the reels back to the house after the Police investigation, returning to the scene of the crime, Oswalt thinks about handing it over to the police, but nah…why do that when it could lead to another best seller! Ethan Hawk nails the character of narcissist, infuriating the watcher as he puts his desire for fame over the safety of his family, again and again. Telling himself all the while that it’s for justice, not recognition.
Now, I dig the serial killer/true crime concept. The film could have rode that out alone, but it didn’t, it threw in a few twists, throwing in both cult and supernatural elements. Most of the time when a flick adds too many horror themes to the mix, it doesn’t turn out well. Usually, like in the second season of American Horror Story: Asylum, it tips into the realm of ridiculous (“What! Alien Nazis Nuns possessed by Satan?! Well, I never saw that coming!”). With out giving too much away, I can honestly say that Sinister handled combining these elements well. It combines tropes explored in other fright flicks better than most modern day movies, ending with very few plot holes. In fact I can think of only one that can be easily explained away, unlike many movies that leave gaping chasms that you could drive a train through (*cough* High Tension *Cough*).
So fright fans, you can color me surprised and possibly even a little less jaded in my expectations of the latest horror….possibly. Though I’ll still likely sneer at the words ‘found footage’, I know that between the remakes and sequels to the sequels, there are a few recent films that I can grace with the title of Fiendish Flick. And maybe, just maybe, with promising pictures on the horizon like Kevin Smith’s Tusk and The Babadook, the newer flicks deemed fiendish wont be so few and far between.
Well that’s it for this week horror honies, let me know what flicks you think I might have missed. -Ruby