Monday, October 14, 2013

21 Days Until Halloween - Sinister

In the past couple of years, there has been a welcome wave of what I like to call "adult horror" -- films that eschew the "teens in peril" model that had dominated the genre for so long.  While horror films have always had teenage protagonists, with the success of 1996's Scream, Hollywood propelled high schoolers attracting/inflicting/receiving murder onto the big screen at every possible chance, relegating adults to mere side characters, a good number of which are crafted simply as buffoons who have no chance whatsoever of assisting the heroes -- and more often than that are simply fodder to up the body count.

But recently, adult characters and themes have made a return to horror with films like The Possession, The Woman In Black,  MamaInsidious, and The Conjuring.  And while most, if not all of these films do feature children in jeopardy, their peril is purely at the expense of exploiting a parent's worst nightmare -- that of the loss or potential loss of their children.

Among the horror films with a more mature sensibility, I think Sinister is the best.

One quick thing to mention -- the film makes the interesting choice to combine the found footage medium medium so popular today, with a traditional narrative.  The found footage element is exactly that -- a box of super 8 films literally found in the attic of the home.  It's a shrewd move on the part of co-writers C. Robert Cargill and Scott Derrickson (who also directs) -- to find a niche in the popular current trend of the found footage film, by using it as a film within a film format.

Sinister is hands down the most frightening experience I've had with a modern horror film.  While not director Scott Derrickson's first foray into the horror genre, it is unquestionably his most accomplished.

Ethan Hawke and Juliet Rylance, as husband and wife Ellison and Tracy Oswalt, make the characters incredibly real and sympathetic, which is the real bread and butter of a horror film.  If you don't care about the characters, nothing that happens to them will be even remotely frightening.

And Christopher Young, arguably the genre's most prolific and masterful composer, crafts a score that, paired with a selection of eerie tracks by artists like Accurst, Ulver, Aghast Manor, and Sunn O)))), is a terrifying experience unto itself.

And as with nearly all my selections -- the film ends in dread, with one of the darkest endings in recent memory.

One of the other adult themed horror films of late is The Conjuring, and while I enjoyed the film immensely, I found the third act problematic.  At first I couldn't quite put my finger on why that is -- but then I gave it some further thought, after going over Sinister in my mind.

The Conjuring tries to wrap it all up with a shiny bow.  After two acts of sheer terror (deftly crafted by director James Wan), the film goes the traditional of good over evil.  And for some reason, when it comes to the paranormal, I always have a problem buying that.  Because how exactly does one overcome the intangible?  How does a person or group of persons defeat something that cannot be seen or touched?

Yes, I suppose the Warrens were there to even the playing field -- but after it all, as scary as the experiences were for the members of the family, they all walked away from it (except the dog -- okay, you got me there).

Sinister has no such optimism, building on a foundation that soundly defies on of cinema's golden rules: No Harm Shall Come To A Child.

Sinister is full of dead children.  I'm not saying that dead children should be celebrated.  I'm just saying that the film tells you right up front that there are no sacred cows here, and that anyone and everyone is in danger.

And unlike The Conjuring, when it takes you to the edge, it doesn't pull you back to safety -- it pushes you right over.

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