Tag: sinister

Sinister 2

Sinister 2 (2015)
★ / ★★★★

“Sinister 2,” written by Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill, is a toothless horror-thriller, near comatose in tone and atmosphere, and the visuals are so uninspired, I was reminded of cripplingly bad horror movies from the early 2000s where filmmakers are still trying to figure out how and when to use CGI. The picture is clearly lacking in inspiration, merely cashing in from the success of its predecessor.

Courtney (Shannyn Sossamon) is in hiding with her twin boys, Dylan (Robert Daniel Sloan) and Zach (Dartanian Sloan), because her abusive husband wishes to take away her children. However, what she believes is a place of safety turns out to be a house next to a church where a gruesome murder-suicide had occurred. Unbeknownst to Courtney, Dylan has to ability to see not only ghosts of children but also a supernatural creature named Bughuul (Nicholas King), known as the Eater of Children.

A major driving force in the plot is the extremely violent movies recorded by children who murdered their families. Supposedly, these movies have the power to inspire whoever watches them into making their own horrific film, preferably surpassing the violence they had seen. The problem is, none of these clips are particularly scary, memorable, or compelling. On the contrary, a handful of them are quite laughable, particularly the one involving an alligator or crocodile as it bites off the head of each family member.

It fails to take advantage of its rural setting. The farmhouse with a terrible past sits in the middle of nowhere, but the director, Ciarán Foy, defaults framing from the waist up. This is a miscalculation on two levels. First, the performers are not particularly convincing in their roles. The words they utter are merely decorations in order to move the plot along. We do not feel the history of each character. Second, not enough of the environment is captured in the background in order to get the audience into a spooky or creepy mood.

The latter limitation is particularly problematic because this is a horror film, after all. Instead, the filmmakers rely on utilizing computer graphic images to try to scare us, from elusive apparitions to a fire that threatens to consume. Having too much CGI in the horror genre almost never works because it takes away the required realism in order to get the audience to believe, subconsciously or otherwise, that what is happening on screen could happen out there. As in many horror films, the CGI here looks cheap and distracting.

There is a romantic subplot in “Sinister 2” that is so misplaced, one begs to wonder what the writers were thinking during the brainstorming process. Someone should have spoken up that such a sudden shift in tone distracts from the main story rather than elevating it. But even if did not, there is nothing new or exciting about the would-be couple. The charade is cheesy, desperate, and disingenuous.


Sinister (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★

Desperate for inspiration to write another book, Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke), a true-crime novelist, knowingly moved his family into a house whose past owners were murdered. Move-in day proved promising for the author when he found a box of Super 8 family movies in the attic which contained clips of five different families spending time with one another and eventually being killed in gruesome manners. Despite the images he witnessed, Ellison proceeded to research the crimes and write the book, all the while keeping his family unaware of their house’s history. Right from its first images in which not a word was uttered, “Sinister,” written by Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill, commanded a darkness that captured and retained my attention until it dropped its intense promise with such an uninspired final act often expected from weaker haunted house movies. The build-up was quite impressive because there was an uncertainty as to whether the strange incidents could be attributed to human factor as opposed to something otherworldly. For example, the first big scare involving a box and what came out of it was deftly handled because it played upon a phenomenon that a lot of people had most likely heard of but not necessarily understand. That scene, which I suspected to be just another cheap attempt to get any reaction from us but turned out to be the complete opposite, reflected the filmmakers’ first-rate ability, if they wanted to, to create increasingly tense situations as the anxieties we felt in our guts swirled and swirled until a perfectly timed grotesque image, coupled with a loud noise, triggered our uneasiness to burst, sending jolts down our spines and limbs. However, its techniques in establishing dread was not its only weapon that drew us in. Hawke was convincing as a writer whose passion threatened to swallow him and his family whole. Ellison believed that he had another hit novel inside him just waiting to be written given the proper fire. Though he somehow convinced himself that the act of choosing to endure the house of horror was for his family, everyone knew except him that it was really about his ego. If it weren’t, he wouldn’t have stayed in that house, given what he learned about the crimes, and risked his family’s safety. The one argument between husband and wife (Juliet Rylance) may feel like it came from a marriage drama but, in this case, it felt right because it kept the story grounded. Meanwhile, the film’s more amusing segments involved Ellison and a local deputy (James Ransone) forming a sort of partnership, the latter expecting to have his name credited once the book was finished. We were given a chance to see very clearly the extent of how Ellison viewed himself so highly compared to a fan that behaved like a drooling dog, desperate for a pat on the head for each thing he got right. Unfortunately, the last act of “Sinister,” directed by Scott Derrickson, proved dull and uninspired, not at all worthy of the material that came before it. One of the worst feelings while watching a movie, despite the genre, is when we begin to suspect that the filmmakers had given up to provide us something that they genuinely believe is worthwhile. The final act felt rushed, silly, and at times laughable with its repetitive gestures of silence. It made me want to scream at the screen–out of frustration, not fear.

I Saw the Devil

I Saw the Devil (2010)
★★★★ / ★★★★

A woman was driving in the middle of nowhere and her luck turned grim when one of the tires gave out. She called her husband, Secret Agent Kim Soo-hyeon (Byung-hun Lee), to inform him of her predicament. In the middle of their phone conversation, a man named Kyung-chul (Min-sik Choi) knocked on her window and offered to help. She refused, told him that she already called a car service, and thanked him for his kindness. He insisted but she refused again. So he decided to break into her car and beat her until she lost consciousness. When, covered in a plastic bag, she became aware of her surroundings, he transected her limbs and threw her head into the river. Written by Hoon-jung Park and directed by Jee-woon Kim, “Akmareul boatda,” also known as “I Saw the Devil,” was an intense psychological study of a man so hell-bent on vengeance, he didn’t care if he hurt the wrong man. The lush cinematography made an interesting contrast with the characters’ dark ideations. When the searchers found the woman’s head in the river, there was something so sad and sinister about the scene. It was sad because her father and husband expected that the head wouldn’t be her’s but at the same time they somewhat knew that it was over. It was sinister because I felt like Kyung-chul was watching among the crowd of journalists and photographers. What I found unique about the story was in the way Agent Kim had the upper-hand for most of the film. It was unpredictable because it didn’t follow a typical narrative. For instance, the sadistic killer and the husband confronted each other prior to the half-way point. With each time the killer lost a physical confrontation, a part of his body was broken and he was allowed to run (or limp) away. Unbeknownst to the killer, the secret agent forced him to swallow a tracking device. The comedy kicked in when Kyung-chul was aghast that every time he was about to molest a young girl, Agent Kim foiled his plans and gave him another broken body part. Behaviorism failed to work. We wanted to see the killer suffer but there came a point where we had no choice but to ask ourselves how much was enough. Agent Kim claimed that the violence he inflicted was driven by the promise he made to his late wife. But maybe there was something inside him that relished being in control of another human being and acting like he was above the law. It worked as a meticulous case study of what torture does to the person inflicting the pain. As wild as the picture became, I admired that it had ways of pulling us back to the murdered wife. I especially liked the way the director handled the difficult phone call between Agent Kim and his wife’s family. His father-in-law actually asked him to stop. I imagine it must have been so difficult for him to come to that decision. “What you’re doing will not bring her back,” the sister said. Agent Kim’s eyes searched for an answer that could prove her statement wrong. There wasn’t any.

Children of the Corn

Children of the Corn (1984)
★ / ★★★★

After church, Job (Robby Kiger) and his father went to a diner for breakfast. It seemed like a regular Sunday in Gatlin, Nebraska but something sinister happened. The kids started to give each other strange looks and the next thing we knew, they started killing the adults around them. The only kids who did not seem affected were Job and his sister (Anne Marie McEvoy) who had a gift of foretelling events through drawing. When a couple (Linda Hamilton, Peter Horton) accidentally ran over a boy, they eventually decided to stop by Gatlin to report the incident. The picture started off strongly. The thought of kids murdering people without reason, including their parents, gave me the creeps. I was curious about what triggered the strange events and the endgame of those involved. Unfortunately, the film failed to give any answer. Instead, it spent half of its time showing us the couple driving on a seemingly interminable freeway. While their interactions were somewhat amusing and the establishment of their characters necessary, there wasn’t enough edge to hold my interest. I saw one distraction after another which made me think about the weakness of both the writing and the execution. I wanted to know more about the psychic sister. What made her and Job unsusceptible to the urge to commit murder? Instead, the picture focused on the many speeches of Isaac (John Franklin) and almost caveman-like Malachai (Courtney Gains). It was obvious that the material wanted to comment on taking religion too seriously along with their respective scriptures word-for-word, but focusing on that one aspect diminished the creativity and imagination that should have been applied to the overall story. It would have been more haunting if the monster or devil known as “He Who Walks Behind the Rows” was not shown but merely implied. It wasn’t that I was unconvinced my the special and visual effects (I’m always more concerned about the concept), but the idea that some force could drive children to madness was enough. Sometimes simplicity is key. It just needed to elaborate on its big ideas and consistently raise the bar instead of recycling horror movie clichés. Based on Stephen King’s short story and directed by Fritz Kiersch, “Children of the Corn” was a huge disappointment because it had such a promising first scene. When the couple walked around a seemingly abandoned small town, I felt like I was there. It needed more creepy moments like that instead of its dull fixation on human sacrifice.

The Ghost Writer

The Ghost Writer (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

Adapted from Robert Harris’ novel, Ewan McGregor played a ghostwriter who was hired to help complete an ex-British prime minister’s (Pierce Brosnan) memoir. Suspecting that something wasn’t quite right in the former British prime minister’s stories compared to what was said by the media and those around him, The Ghost did an investigation of his own which led him to endanger his life. Directed by the controversial Roman Polanski, what I liked most about the film was the director’s ability to take material that we’ve seen before concerning the dangers of politics and inject just the right mood and pacing to create something quietly sinister. I must admit that I did not immediately understand what was going on because it felt as though the protagonist was thrusted onto an island where he had barely any idea what he was doing or why he was really there. He tried to convince himself that he was there for an assignment (with great pay) but his instincts made him question until he couldn’t bear his curiosity any longer. The characters such as the former prime minister’s lead assistant (Kim Cattrall, whom I would love to see more in serious roles), wife (Olivia Williams), and even the housekeeper made me feel uneasy so I could not help but suspect them of hiding something key that might lead to the big revelation. Another interesting layer was the question of whether The Ghost was really on an assignment involving politics, or personal revenge, or possibly both. The questions were difficult to answer and the answers were vague. But I liked the fact that the movie chose to challenge its audience by allowing us to read between the lines. Since the real answers were elusive, we couldn’t help but question whether our protagonist was truly on the right track in terms of solving the mystery or whether he was merely putting together random information and forcing himself to make sense of them. “The Ghost Writer” thrived on subtlety and often reminded me of the underrated “Breach” directed by Billy Ray. Like that film, what kept the film together was not the extended action scenes but the strong acting and constantly evolving atmosphere. Perhaps I am giving the movie too much credit but I did notice some references to noir pictures in the 1940s, the most obvious one being Stanley Kubrick’s “The Killing.” My only minor complaint was I hoped Polanski used Tom Wilkinson a lot more. Wilkinson managed to do so much with how little he was given and it would have been interesting to see how much more he could have turned the main character’s life upside down if he had been given more material.

Léon: The Professional

Léon: The Professional (1994)
★★★ / ★★★★

Jean Reno, a reclusive assassin whose best friend is a plant, takes twelve-year-old Natalie Portman under his wing after her family was killed by police officers led by Gary Oldman. Written and directed by Luc Besson (“The Fifth Element,” “La Femme Nikita”), I enjoyed “Léon” because it was more about the humanity of a contract killer instead of his many interesting ways of killing. Even though the action sequences could be found more toward the beginning and the end of the picture, I still found Reno and Portman’s relationship to be quite endearing. Undoubtedly, there were times when I found the director would cross the line between father-figure/daughter relationship and older man/younger girl relationship. Those scenes made me uncomfortable but perhaps it was because this was Besson’s first full English-language movie. In my opinion, European films have a more sensual feel compared to American movies. Still, I was able to overlook such flaws because I found the story to be interesting even if it needed to have more depth. Another quality I liked about this film was that there really was no “good” character. Pretty much everyone had done something shameful in their lives. And the main character was aware of this so he locks himself up in his room and only comes out whenever he has an assignment. Oldman’s character was the kind of guy that you love to hate because he has no redeeming quality. Nevertheless, I thought he was very interesting to watch because of his quirky mannerisms and sinister aura. I kind of expected an intense duel between him and the protagonist so I was somewhat disappointed with the ending. For such a sadistic man, I thought the bad guy would suffer more in the hands of another killer and get the delicious irony he deserved. If one is looking for action with picture with a heart, I’m giving “Léon” a pretty solid recommendation despite its sometimes glaring flaws.


Frailty (2001)
★★★ / ★★★★

Bill Paxton directed this haunting thriller about a father (Bill Paxton) who supposedly began to receive messages from an angel to carry out God’s plan. That is, to kill seven people who disguised themselves as regular individuals. Paxton recruited his sons (Matt O’Leary and Jeremy Sumpter) to carry out God’s bidding; one willingly followed his father’s footsteps and one chose to think for himself and went against his father’s wishes of murder. But all of that happened in the past. The first scene opened when Matthew McConaughey, as one of the brothers, confessed to an FBI agent (Powers Boothe) who was in charge of the God’s Hand case that he knew the real identity of the murderer and where the bodies were buried. The most effective and chillling element about this movie was the lens we choose to see a story and therefore create varying perspectives and conclusions. Essentially, one could evaluate Paxton’s character as deeply mentally disturbed or he really did get messages from a higher power. The film’s tone was consistently sinister throughout and each scene had a payoff so it was nothing short of engaging. I also have to commend the acting, especially from the actors who played the kids, because if they weren’t very good, the story wouldn’t have held up as well because they were pretty much in every single frame. The one thing I loved about Paxton’s direction was that he didn’t use the all-too-typical formula of scaring kids or putting them into dangerous situations so we would care more about them. They were actually human beings who were capable of moral evaluations about the things they’ve done and the things they were about to do. This is a thinking person’s movie because there were a lot of unexplored untones that become more and more interesting the more one thinks about them. (Which I actively choose not to discuss because I refuse to give away the ending.) “Frailty” is a suspenseful, first-rate underrated thriller about a man who was suddenly broken or enlightened. Like a solid piece of literature, the interpretation is really up to us.


[REC] (2007)
★★★ / ★★★★

Having seen and being impressed with the remake called “Quarantine,” I just had to see the original. I think both are very effective even though they pretty much had the same scenes. In “[REC],” astutely directed by Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza, it had less exposition but the audiences quickly cared about the reporter (Manuela Velasco) and her cameraman. The reporter had a certain spunk and enthusiasm and what the cameraman saw, we saw so there was an automatic connection there. Everything starts off pretty light as the reporter interviewed the firemen about their every day happenings. Things quickly went for a darker turn when the firefighters got a call from an old apartment complex. At first, they thought it was just an old woman that fell and needed help. But when she started attacking and biting people, everyone pretty much knew that something more sinister was going on. People started dying in gruesome ways in the hands of zombie-like infected people and they get quarantined by city officials without an ounce of explanation. What I love about this film was its natural ability to build tension after each scene. There were moments when I thought that if I was stuck in the building with them, the exact same thing could happen so I was definitely more than engaged. “The Blair Witch Project” was undoubtedly this picture’s biggest inspiration but it managed to tilt just enough to have an identity of its own. The best part of the movie for me was the last fifteen to twenty minutes when they finally made it inside the apartment on the top floor. Such scenes revealed to us that it had more to it than “28 Days Later”-like zombies. The disease had a history and I wanted to know more about it. (Maybe a sequel?) But, of course, the scares did not end there. I felt like I was in that dark room with them as they tried to use the night vision option on the camera. I tried not to blink because I was expecting those “shock”/”jumpy” moments. But even then I was surprised and things popped out of nowhere. If one is a horror film fan, this is a must-see. However, this is definitely not for those who dislike shaky cameras in order to add some type of realism to its craft.