Friday, October 26, 2012

Worth Mentioning - Disturbing Images and Terror

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

 This week, Cody was won over by Sinister.


I had no interest in seeing Sinister. For one thing, the title never caught my attention, it being part of the modern trend of making film titles as bland as possible (for example, see the Sam Raimi-produced Dibbuk Box getting renamed to become the thousandth or so movie to be titled (The) Possession) and horror movies being named by apparently searching the dictionary for adjectives with negative connotations and then picking one at random. Movies like Sinister, Insidious, Vile, Atrocious, Dismal, Malevolence, etc. could all trade titles with each other and the new ones they got would fit just as well as the one they were released with.

Another off-putting element to me was the plot description mentioning that the story involved a man finding footage of a serial killer's murders, and when I eventually saw the trailer the main thing that stood out to me was the lower quality first person perspective footage of the murder scenes. Footage shot by a character within the movie. I'm not a fan of the found footage gimmick, if a movie is shot by its own characters, characters who have a ridiculous dedication to continuing to film everything around them no matter how life-threatening the situation they find themselves in, chances are that I'm not going to enjoy it. So I wrote Sinister off.

As its release date got closer, people started chipping away at the wall I had put up against Sinister.
During a conversation with Burleson, he showed interest in the movie and suggested that the found footage gimmick might not be as prevalent as I feared it would be.
Then, right before the movie hit theatres, Kevin Smith posted the first part of a two-part SMovieMakers podcast interview with the film's writer/director Scott Derrickson. In this interview, Derrickson proved to be a really interesting and cool guy. I was especially struck by the fact that he openly identifies as a Christian, yet he works within the horror genre quite often - Sinister, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Hellraiser: Inferno, Urban Legends: Final Cut - and seems drawn to darker material. My education was done through Christian schools and my beloved horror genre was always being disparaged by the religious authority figures around me, so it's great for me to see a Christian like Derrickson making genre movies. I quickly became more likely to watch Sinister just because I liked the filmmaker... But I didn't see it opening weekend and wasn't in any rush to get to it.
On its second weekend, I ended up at a friend's house with some time to kill, and she suggested that we go to a movie. She listed off the movies she'd be willing to see, and since I had already seen two of the movies on her list, the choice ended up being what I considered the third most viable option: Sinister. Burleson, Kevin Smith, Scott Derrickson, word of mouth, free time and circumstance finally got me into a seat during a screening of this movie.

Ethan Hawke (one of my favorite actors) stars as true crime novelist Ellison Oswalt, who has just moved his family into a house where, unbeknownst to his wife and children, the family that previously resided there was murdered in the backyard some months prior. Oswalt has decided to write his new book about the murder of the former residents and the disappearance of the family's young daughter, but ends up stumbling across an even bigger story. While moving into the house, Oswalt finds a box in the attic that contains a film projector and reels of Super 8 "home movies" labeled with innocuous titles like "Hanging Out", "Lawn Work", "Pool Party", "Sleepy Time", etc... but when Oswalt watches them, the films turn out to be footage of murders going back to the mid 1960s and continuing up to the murders that were committed in his new backyard in 2011. Every time, it's families being killed, parents and young children.

Burleson was right, the found footage angle was not of the type that has annoyed me in other movies. Characters are never filming things around them for no reason, the found footage aspect is entirely the Super 8 reels that Oswalt pours over, examining every frame, searching for clues that might direct him toward the killer's identity, making some very dark discoveries. As scared and disturbed as Oswalt is by what he turns up, he keeps going with his investigation because this story might just be the thing he needs to rejuvenate his flagging career. But it could also be the thing that destroys his life.

Movies don't scare me and the person I saw it with wasn't particularly frightened by Sinister, but many members of the audience we were in were, there was a lot of jumping and yelling going on, and one couple even left the movie early because it was too scary for them.

I enjoyed Sinister much more than I ever expected to and actually thought it was a very good horror film, one that could potentially stand the test of time. If anyone can remember its title. The friend I saw it with already had to be reminded "What was the movie we saw called?" by the time we got back to her house.

That's something the movie's fans can ponder now; what would be a better, more memorable title? If the movie had been released twenty years ago, I think it would've been called Mr. Boogie, but that sounds kind of silly. Its exploitation/drive-in era title might've been something along the lines of Frames of Death or Death Frames... I'm not saying I can come up with something great, just that there could've been a better, more story specific title than "Sinister".
I listened to the second part of the Scott Derrickson SMovieMakers interview podcast the day after watching Sinister, at which point I liked both Derrickson and his new movie.

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