El Jefe de Santo, when he's not busy saving orphans, being a political pundit, making an extremely delicous tres de leches cake or destroying his opponents in the ring with devastating Tilt-A-Whirl Head Scissors takedowns, can be found enjoying cinema. One genre, in particular, really tickles his fancy.. horror. The macabre, the grotesque and the terrifying fascinate this masked man. This week found him, yet again, watching a new horror release..
2012 has actually been a fairly decent year for mainstream horror. I tend to stick with the films of decades past more than the modern films but, lately, the studios have actually been producing movies worth watching. The underrated The Possession and the absurdly brilliant Cabin in the Woods were homeruns, as far as I was concerned and now we come to Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate's Sinister.
The film opens with silent footage of four people, hoods over their heads and nooses around their necks, standing beneath a tree branch. The adjacent limb is sawed through with a power saw, slowly, and the branch holding the nooses rises thus ending the lives of those pictured. The title card flashes at the bottom right corner and, from then on, I knew I was in for something good.
That very tree with the split branch is displayed prominently through the kitchen window of the new house that that Oswalt family is moving into. Ellison (Ethan Hawke) and his wife Tracy (Juliet Rylance) are quickly trying to make a go of it it in a new town but, frankly, what kind of crazy person moves into a house where such awful things happened? The local sherriff even warns Ellison to beat it and that moving into the house was in "poor taste".
Ellison Oswalt is a driven man who wants to reclaim his prior success. His last hit was over a decade ago and since then he's been searching for that next big story. The brutal murder, which one family member survived and is now currently missing, mentioned prior will be the subject of his next book.
It's not long into the festivities that he finds a box in the attic. "Home Movies" is scrawled across the side and the contents consist of many Super-8 reels and a projector. Things quickly start to spiral downward. The fact that he's kept his family in the dark about the whole bloody mess doesn't make things any easier either. Their children, Trevor (Michael Hall D'Addario and Clare Foley)and Ashley, figure out the dark history of their new home soon enough with the youngest, Ashley, actually painting a picture of the missing girl on a hallway wall.
Scott Derrickson, the film's director (The Exorcism of Emily Rose), focuses on Ellison and his investigation. He spends most of his time locked away in his office, watching through the films which only get worse as he progresses through the reels. Each consists of a horrific murder committed by, what we can only assume, is the camera man. He transfers the footage to his laptop for further analysis and uncovers further details that only complicate the story. Ellison withdraws even further from his family, hitting the bottle and the sense of dread starts to build.
The Super-8 reels shown are REALLY well done. They're very unsettling, nice and grainy and set to just awful music. It was that sort of awful car crash that you don't want to look at but you just cannot look away. The last, in particular, is especially revolting and it involves a lawnmower. Man.. that one is still hanging around in my head.
The spiral downard of Hawke's character lends to the idea that, maybe, a lot of what we're experiencing isn't happening but is maybe a result of Ellison's reaction to the atrocities he's witnessed and all the alcohol he's consumed lately. There is an effort shown, I felt, to paint him as a definitely flawed man and his crumbling relationship with his wife adds a nice layer to all the exposition and the general mood of the film. If only Rylance had actually been something more than just a body on the screen it would have been even better!
This didn't rely on jump scares, which I loved, built its foundation more on the growing sense of dread and terror that came from the revelation the "Home Movies" offered to Ellison. The entity seen within the reels is some sort of Pagan deity, as explained by an occult Professor (Vincent D'Onofrio), and he is used to good effect. The sparing use of him until, really, the last thirty seconds of the film was a welcome change. It was better done here than in, say, Insidious, where the reveal of the antagonist was ultimately a bit of a letdown.
I know, a lot of praise, right? Well, there were some problems with the film, though. It, like a LOT of horror, got rather predictable. There were things that, at times, were almost telegraphed to the viewer and normally I would get rather upset about that but as someone who's been watching horror movies for the better part of 28 years now..I just can't get that angry about it. The genre, as much as I love it, has this problem. You're going for scares and, sometimes, you fall into the formulaic trap. I'm willing to forgive the film for it, though, because it got a lot of things right.
The acting, aside from Hawke, is a bit of a mixed bag as Juliet Rylance is just awful, the kids are, well, kids in a horror movie and the rest of the supporting cast ranges from so-so (Fred Dalton Thompson as the Sherriff) to James Ransone (Sherriff's Deputy and comic relief) who actually did a pretty great job.
The end also had a VERY lame jump scare just inserted right there before the credits roll that was REALLY unnecessary but overall those are just minor things in comparison to what the movie got right.
*I know I gave it a lot of praise but, as far as horror movies go, you've got to REALLY be impressive to get a higher rating from me. This was a solid flick but nothing spectacular. Is it worth a watch, though? Yep.*