“Sinister” is a horror movie starring Ethan Hawke and former Senator Fred Thompson (Senator Thompson has only a small role but I felt obliged to mention because he did run for President). It was a movie I was curious about seeing when it was in theatres, but never got around to for a variety of reasons. Basically, I think I was just too chicken: the trailer of this movie looked pretty intense.
Anyway, Ethan Hawke plays a semi-successful true-crime writer, Ellison Oswalt, who has the self-inflicted misfortune of deliberately purchasing and moving into a home where an entire family, save one missing child, was slaughtered by being hung from a tree. Ellison, intent on recording that family’s tragic story, moves into the house with his own family and sets to work. First, he finds a collection of old film up in his attic. When he views the film, he discovers that this is not just one murder of a family, but a whole series of murders spread across the country going from city to city, and going back nearly fifty years. It is both perplexing and invigorating. Now, he may just have the makings of the book of a lifetime, one that will earn him and his family riches beyond his wildest dreams. But soon things start to go wrong. Lights go on and off inexplicably. The more he learns, the more chilling the details become, and the more he finds himself drawn into a “sinister” web of supernatural horror.
Strengths: this movie had all the makings of a really good classic horror film. Suspense literally dripped off the screen (okay, maybe not literally). Part of it was the creepy background. Another part of it was the fact that you the viewer weren’t completely cognizant of what was happening until it happened. They fed you the storyline, piece by piece, letting the suspense build as the pieces fit together. It was one-part horror; one part mystery. And that would have made for a great film. But … they blew it. Weaknesses: really, the only weakness in the film was the ending, and it was a lackluster one indeed. They turned a good suspenseful horror/mystery (spoiler alert) into just another blood bath … although they did not show the killings they just plastered a lot of walls with blood. My friend and I were talking about it, and we found at least three other viable endings for the film that would have been much better, if they had just cut it off there and left it. Or, they could have been really daring, and made a horror movie with a happy ending. Because if Ellison had come out on top, it would still have made an excellent film and he would have deserved it.
Overall, I’ll give this film three stars out of five (it would have been four stars if not for the ending).
Legends of the vampire abound the world over. The myth has morphed from the tales told around a campfire to world-wide box office hits and best-selling books. Throughout, the nature of the vampire has slowly changed, or perhaps been deliberately muddled. In modern times, the vampire is undergoing even more change. In horror movies (as opposed to something like “Twilight”), an emphasis is being placed upon the vampire as monster. Where once the vampire of horror resembled a human being with only a pair of slightly-too-large sharp canine teeth as tell-tale signs of its true nature, it is now being more consistently represented as a hideous monster, or a human-like being that transforms into a hideous monster when it is time to feed. With modern special effects it is relatively easy to make a creature horrific-looking: white-grey skin, finger-nails like claws, and mouths filled with row upon row of vicious, sharp teeth. Add to that a growling, beast-like visage, and the transformation is complete. But is all this “beefing up” of the vampire’s bestial nature necessary?
I would argue no. It works at a superficial level; the visual effect of a horrific vampire, such as the one Colin Farrell played in the re-make of “Fright Night” can be quite disconcerting the first time you see it on the screen. But that’s as far as it goes. To me, the greatest horrific characteristic of the vampire is its human-like intelligence. Here is a monster that feeds on humans, slaying them, transforming them into its own kind, and it is as smart as any of them, often times smarter with centuries of experience on its side. To me, that has the potential of creating a truly terrible monster, yet it is hardly used as well as it could be. To me, the visually horrifying vampire does the myth as a whole a disservice because part of the horror that came with the myth was the notion that the vampire appeared almost completely human—perhaps he was a little pale, and he had those two sharp teeth I mentioned, but beyond that it was easy to mistake him for one of us. A bite from a vampire seen at a distance could easily be mistaken for a kiss. Turning the creature into a hideous monster changes that dynamic in a fundamental way and something is lost when that happens. He becomes a killing machine, a mechanism for cheap thrills and slaughter. I prefer the vampire that plots and schemes, that has a plan. This requires more subtlety in the writing, but I believe it is worth it. A story where one can see and feel the intelligence of this diabolical adversary would be far more effective than simply presenting a brutal killer with supernatural powers.