Sinister: written by Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill; directed by Scott Derrickson; starring Ethan Hawke (Ellison Oswalt), Juliet Rylance (Tracy), Fred Dalton Thompson (Sheriff), and James Ransone (Deputy) (2012): From the producers of the Paranormal Activity movies (which I mostly enjoy) comes another supernatural tale pitting dumber-than-average humans against the forces of darkness.
The title, as with the similar Insidious, has no specific relevance to the movie. It’s a generic horror title, so don’t start watching with the expectation that the monster’s left-handed or anything.
Ethan Hawke plays a formerly best-selling true-crime writer who needs a bestseller to pay the mortgage. Juliet Rylance plays his wife, who’s never in the house during the day but doesn’t seem to have a job, either. Their older boy suffers from a combination of Night Terrors and sleep-walking, which seems a bit odd to me given that Night Terrors generally involve sleep paralysis, but I’ll go with it. Their younger daughter likes painting on walls.
Hawke’s character cleverly moves the family into a house where a brutal multiple murder took place about a year earlier. Ah ha, but he doesn’t tell his wife! And as his wife apparently neither speaks to anyone in town or is in any way curious as to why they moved where they moved, she doesn’t find out the truth until fairly late in the movie.
Anyway, the supernatural forces in this movie really enjoy recording everything on Super 8 film. Then they stick the Super 8 projector and carefully labelled film canisters in the attic for the next family to find. Yes, there are a series of serial murders taking place across America. As one of the murders involved setting fire to a car inside a garage in the dead of night, I’m a little unclear as to how the house in that case survived for someone else to move into. I assume they had really good fire suppression installed. But not monster suppression, more fools they!
Sinister is nicely photographed. Much of the horror comes from the voyeurism of watching (fictional) snuff films along with Ethan Hawke. But boy, is everybody in this movie dumb except for Sheriff Fred Dalton Thompson and Vincent D’onofrio in a cameo as an expert in occult mythology and iconography. There’s probably a pretty good movie to be made about D’Onofrio and his trusty coffee-dispensing sidekick Jessica, but I’m not sure these filmmakers could make a movie about what happens when smart people deal with occult forces, and do so by actually going to a library instead of relying solely on the Internet for potentially life-saving information. Lightly recommended.
The Awakening: written by Stephen Volk and Nick Murphy; directed by Nick Murphy; starring Rebecca Hall (Florence Cathcart), Dominic West (Robert Mallory), Imedla Staunton (Maud Hill) and Isaac Hempstead Wright (Tom Hill) (2011): Broody ghost story set in 1921 follows the efforts of professional debunker Rebecca Hall to solve the mystery of whether or not a boy at a boarding school in the North of England was a-scared to death by a ghost.
World War One is the major intertext here, as Hall lost her fiance and several of the teachers fought in the conflict and came home with both physical and mental wounds. Hall’s character also has a somewhat bizarre past, as she was adopted after her parents were killed and she was mauled by lions.
Debunking and debunkers are again portrayed as sad bastards screwing it up for everyone else, which seems to be the default setting of every fictional movie that ever dealt with debunkers. Given the real-world cost that awful, awful ‘psychics’ such as Sylvia Browne exact when they insert themselves into police investigations (which Browne has never once actually helped solve) and the lives of the bereaved (whom Browne has put through the wringer on numerous occasions by describing horrible modes of death for victims who in fact did not actually die the way she described), it would be nice if a movie dealt with this fairly important aspect of debunking: namely, that it keeps ‘psychics’ from doing terrible things to innocent people in the name of publicity.
In any case, once you realize that Hall’s character is indeed another sad orphan who really wants to believe, you know where the movie is going. Well, sort of. The final major plot twist verges on O. Henry Playhouse territory, though it is somewhat foreshadowed. Enjoyable and atmospheric. Lightly recommended.
Trouble with the Curve: written by Randy Brown; directed by Robert Lorenz; starring Clint Eastwood (Gus), Amy Adams (Mickey), John Goodman (Pete) and Justin Timberlake (Johnny) (2012): Once you get through the hilarious scene of octogenerian Eastwood talking to his bladder, this is a slight, pleasant movie about an old baseball scout, father-daughter issues, and how wily old baseball scouts are way better than computers at locating baseball talent, even though in the real world they actually aren’t. Lightly recommended.