Posts Tagged ‘Sinister’

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If only I’d known something about this flick back when it first came out (on home video — it never screened in theaters as far as I know) in 2012, I’d have been cheerleading for it a lot sooner.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that director Derek Cole’s An American Ghost Story (also released under the title of Revenant) is necessarily all that great, but damn if it isn’t plenty good, and it gets a lot more from its $10,000 budget (yes, you read that right) than most Hollywood “efforts” with ten times, one hundred times, or even one thousand times the money to burn. Any movie that packs a punch this far above its weight class is one worth crowing about, so let me take a few minutes, in the spirit of “better late than never,” to do just that.

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Struggling-and-broke writer Paul Anderson (played by Stephen Twardokus, who also wrote the screenplay and consented to allow his own house to serve as the film’s primary shooting location) is hoping to get the creative juices flowing for his first novel, which he plans to base on some actual paranormal experiences, and manages to hoodwink his girlfriend, Stella (Liesel Kopp) to move with him into a house that he damn well knows is rumored to be haunted. Those rumors — bet you didn’t see this coming — turn out to be true, and it soon becomes painfully obvious that in his quest to become the next Stephen King, Paul has put both he and his lady love’s lives in imminent danger.

Of course it all sounds familiar. It sounds especially familiar if you’ve seen Sinister. But please keep in mind that An American Ghost Story actually predates that much-more-ballyhoo’ed horror blockbuster. Now ask yourself who’s copying who here.

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The acting in this one has its flaws, sure, but by and large it’s far better than you’d be inclined to expect given Cole and Twardokus’ insane budgetary limitations, and while the idea of transforming a modest, and fairly modern, L.A. home into a house of horrors might sound absurd on paper, the truth of the matter is that An American Ghost Story actually makes it work. There are a few actual, legitimate scares to be had here, and while they don’t come at you at anything like a breakneck pace, they’re smartly timed to maintain your involvement throughout the course of the film’s 95 minutes. Does that mean this is a terrific story terrifically told? By all means, no. But it’s a good story well told and that fact alone makes it better than about 90% of the other horror movies available on Netflix (that’s our theme, remember?) right now, so it’s absolutely worth a look.

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I tip my cap to Cole and Twardokus for doing way more with way less than the big studios could ever dream of, and for constructing a film that, hopelessly bland title aside, actually has a lot to recommend in its favor. If you’ve blown right by this one without giving it a second thought as surely as I did myself on many occasions, now is a good time to give it a go and find out for yourself why, again like yours truly, you should have given it a shot a long time ago.

Quick question : why do you go see horror films? If you’re anything like me, you don’t expect these things to actually, ya know, scare you anymore, so what’s the point?

I ask this question now because it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot for the last 24 hours since seeing director Scott Derrickson’s Sinister. Why? Because this thing actually is scary. And not just in the “jump-outta-your-seat” sense, although there are a few good “cheap scares” of that variety, to be sure. No, it’s the underlying concept here that’s so frightening.

Granted, that wouldn’t really matter if the standard bases weren’t covered so well, but rest assured they are — the casting is pitch perfect, with a decidedly unhealthy-looking Ethan Hawke starring as true-crime writer Ellison Oswalt (admit it — you hope he dies on the basis of that name alone), who gets the less-than-bright idea of moving his fucking  family into the house of the latest atrocity he’s investigating (a family was hung from a tree in the backyard and their toddler-age daughter has been missing ever since), turning in one of those increasingly-unhinged performances that really rings true; Juliet Rylance hitting the admittedly predictable but well-done notes as his long-suffering wife, Tracy; and (thankfully) failed Presidential candidate Fred Dalton Thompson putting in a nicely believable turn as the local redneck sheriff.

In addition, director Derrickson has the whole “ramping-up-the-tension” thing down really well, and all the small-but-necessary touches such as moody lighting, minimalist settings, and a damn creepy musical score are present and accounted for. So, hey, on paper, it all looks good, right?

But then, the same can be said for dozens, even hundreds, of horror films over the last few years that have still, at the end of the day, fallen short when it comes to really delivering the goods. The same can’t be said of Sinister, and as mentioned earlier, I think it’s largely down to the fact that the main concept underpinning the proceedings here is both horrific in and of itself and, strangely enough given that it’s based in (fictionalized) ancient superstition, believable. You can see this kind of shit going down in the house next door, and you might not necessarily even know that it’s happening.

That, right there, is why Derrickson and his cohorts should take a bow for their efforts here. They’ve managed to deliver a story that, sure, is fantastic, in and of itself, but is also one that we can all relate to, featuring characters we can easily relate to, as well. The end result isn’t just the scariest thing to come out of a major Hollywood studio in 2012 (hell, in the past several years, truth be told), but also one of the most inventive, most creative, and most well-executed. I can’t recommend it highly enough. So why, indeed, do we really go see most horror films? There are probably countless reasons, but  Sinister is a stark reminder than any of these flicks that don’t actually scare us are really just wasting our time.