Sunday, July 7, 2013

Sinister (2012)

I heard about Sinister when leading actor Ethan Hawke did an AMA on reddit recently. Then I started noticing it being mentioned alongside Insidious as one of the great horror movies of the past few years. So I figured those two titles would make a good double feature (well, I put a couple of days between them, but still...). Insidious was good, and a lot of fun, but I liked Sinister even better.

It starts out with a fantastic premise. A true crime author moves his family into the house where a horrible crime was committed, clinging to the hope that his next book will be the breakout success that brings him all the fortune he needs to continue providing for his family. But here's where it gets really interesting. He finds a mysterious box of super 8 film reels in the attic, which turns out to be a collection of snuff films cleverly disguised as home movies, apparently recorded by a serial killer who takes the act of recording his crimes to the level of an art. (As an aside, that means it's sort of a movie about found footage but not actually a found footage movie). The author researches the crimes for his book, and some weird stuff starts happening and he gets a little closer to them than perhaps he ought to.

Depending on how little you like to know about a movie before you go and see it, you might consider the rest of this paragraph to contain some spoilers. So consider yourself warned. As intrigued as I was by the idea of an intelligent serial killer putting together this disturbing puzzle of a crime mystery, there turns out to be a supernatural element involved, as the crimes are ritualistic in nature, and seem to have been performed to appease an ancient demon that feeds on children. When the author consults a professor of the occult, we also learn that the demon (Bughuul, or Mr. Boogie to the kids) has, as the legends claim, the ability - otherwise rightly relegated to superstition - to affect people through the power of images (and in modern days, videos), causing them to perform terrible acts by viewing depictions of past atrocities. In real life, this belief frustrates me to no end, but in fiction it can be very powerful - especially as a metaphorical or symbolic tool. This theme reminds me of Cigarette Burns, one of my favorite episodes from the first season of Masters of Horror.

Alright, no more spoilers.

The film begins to edge somewhat into cliche territory toward the end, when we see how the author's obsession is tearing the family apart, and when he finally "wises up" and does what any rational person would do, instead of the things he'd been doing that actually make the movie interesting to watch (namely, getting closer to the murders and not steering clear of them). But, without saying too much, I think the ending makes up for it.

Sinister is a pretty creepy movie, that doesn't shy away from confronting the dark side of human (and inhuman) nature. But most importantly, it's an intelligent and a creative movie, the kind that doesn't just entertain me with blood and guts and a foreboding atmosphere, but one that actually intrigues me and inspires me, and starts my mind churning with ideas. And as not just a consumer, but as an artist and a writer and a creator, that's really one of the best things I can ask for from a movie.

Ultimately, your tastes may not match mine, but I am going to have to highly recommend this movie nonetheless.

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