Category Archives: Movies

Movie Review: Sinister

It’s October, the month for moonlit nights highlighting bare, skeletal branches creaking in the cool autumn winds, and of course, it’s the month for Halloween and horror movies.

I’ll talk about my favorite scary movies in a later post. For right now, I’d like to focus on the one we saw Friday night.

In Sinister, a true crime writer (Ethan Hawke) is doing research for his latest novel. This involves moving his family into the town where the crime took place. The crime in question was the ritualistic murder of a family, and we find out pretty quickly that the murder didn’t just take place in the town, it happened in our protagonist family’s new back yard.

Hawke’s character finds a box in the attic of what appears to be home movies on super 8 film. He’s pleased about this, thinking it will give him an insight to the dead family. He’s horrified (and yet somewhat excited) to discover these films include not only the murder of his subject family, but additional murders. Oh, and there’s a creepy Michael Jackson-esque face appearing in each of the films. Booga booga.

That’s what we see in the previews. There’s talk from a presumed expert about the dangers of seeing such evil and how children are especially susceptible. Given that, I was eager to see the movie.

I should have watched the previews more closely. The fictional expert was right about what happens when one watches these acts. They get in your head and they don’t leave.

The movie begins with one of the Super 8 films. It shows, in brutal, graphic detail, the family being murdered. They were hung, together, in the back yard. We in the audience, watch every painful second of kicking and struggling. It’s silent, but one could imagine the choked screams. My first thought was, That’s something you can’t un-see.

I could have tolerated that awful scene had it been the only one. I’m okay with violence and gore in horror films, generally because there is a supernatural element as a buffer. We all know that zombies aren’t going to break down our front doors and that scary ass ghost women aren’t going to appear in the upper corner of our bedrooms. I don’t like “realistic” horror movies. Call them torture porn, since that’s pretty much what they are. The Saw movies are an example of this. Then there was the movie Hostel. Ugh.

I like to be scared. I like to hesitate when entering a darkened room and straining my eyes to see any movement in that darkness. (my cats have startled me a few times under those circumstances) I like that feeling that perhaps something evil is there, just over my shoulder, but I don’t want to watch torture.

That being said, Sinister didn’t scare me. It disturbed me. In the torture porn tradition, it showed graphic murders in full detail. The super 8 “home movies” were all snuff films. I have never, in my life, wanted to watch a snuff film. That’s the kind of thing, like the opening scene, that once you have in your head, you can’t get it out. It’s not scary, it’s unsettling and disgusting. There was no buffer, supernatural or otherwise. It was designed to be upsetting.

There were plenty of cheesy, “make the audience jump” moments. The best of which was when the evil face on the computer moved while our oblivious hero looked in the opposite direction. The worst: when one of the kids, in the grips of a night terror, contorted himself, unrealistically sliding backwards out of a box. (No spoiler here, this scene was in the preview) There were creepy little ghost kids – so many that they became overdone and not scary anymore at all. The characters were all fairly unlikeable and the idea of them dying a horrible death didn’t bother me much.

One thing the producers got right was the music. That is, if you can even call it music. It was a series of jarring, disjointed sounds that were nearly as unsettling as the scenes played out on the screen.

To sum up, Sinister wasn’t scary. It was disturbing. It dragged in several places. The supernatural element was more of an afterthought, and the plot was as lazy as the protagonists’ research habits appeared to be. I’d like to have my two hours and twenty plus dollars back. Most of all, I’d like those snuff film scenes out of my head. I could have happily lived without seeing this movie, and I recommend that you do exactly that.

JZ

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Movie Review: The Raven

Disclaimer: I’m a total Edgar Allen Poe fangirl. He’s been and influence for much of my writing life. I even have a tattoo of a raven, sitting on a bust of Pallas on my right shoulder. See it and read my post about tattoos here: https://jessicazellman.wordpress.com/2011/10/04/ink-a-needle-in-your-skin-let-the-world-know-where-youve-been/

I was introduced to Poe the same way as many other things. As the second youngest child of six, my older siblings influenced my taste in music, television, movies and yes, books. In this case, an older sister was reading Poe and decided I should know about The Black Cat. Also, “The Bells” and of course, everyone’s favorite, “The Raven.” Later that year, she bought me a leather-bound collected works which has an honored place on my bookshelf to this day. I devoured those tales like a favorite snack. Sherlock Holmes had offered some intrigue and gore, but Poe went much further. I loved him immediately.

I remember frowning at the pendulum at the Franklin Institute because it had no mechanism for starting out high and lowering with each swing. In high school, we saw The Fall of the House of Usher performed at what was I presume, a local theater. Also, An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge and another short piece which I don’t remember, possibly because I so loved the other two and was less familiar with that one. That rare field trip (Thank you, Mrs. Birch.) awoke my passion for theater and just increased my love of Mr. Edgar Allen Poe.

So I was delighted to learn that a movie about my favorite early master of the macabre had been made. I hoped Johnny Depp would play Mr. Poe, but it was John Cusack. Sigh.

The story is worthy of a Poe tale. A murderer is on the loose in Baltimore. The deaths are gruesome (as befits Poe) and inspired by various tales by the author himself. The Pit and the Pendulum was an early favorite of mine and the movie’s depiction did not disappoint. The ticking clock arrived when Poe’s girlfriend was kidnapped and the murder demanded an account in the local paper depicting a fictional solution to Poe’s real problem.

There were twists and turns in the path. Poe’s desperation pushed him close to madness and Cusack played this well. There was one moment where the writer had a chance at being an action movie hero. The police detective shouted “Find him, Poe! GO!” A high speed (on horseback) chase through a fog filled forest ensued. Had it ended there, with Poe shooting the bad guy and finding his beloved easily, I would have walked out in disgust. But it didn’t. There would be a few more turns of the screw.

As is appropriate to any Poe tale, this one did not have a happy ending. Justice may have been done, but the hero did not go riding off into the sunset with the heroine by his side. Nor should he have done. This isn’t fairy tale land after all, this is Poe’s world, where life is grim and hard, and often ends senselessly without reason other than evil does exist. In fact, it is often found in each of us.

“And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.”

One post script, as the credits rolled, Ian Astbury’s voice soared and echoed eerily through the theater. Since he’s one of my favorite singers, I was thrilled. Here’s the song, if you care to give it a listen.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5eRyzZJML78