Archive | October, 2019

Looking Back at 2010s Films: The Sacrament (2014)

15 Oct


By Tanner Smith

I stated before that I’m a supporter of the found-footage/faux-documentary format (again, when it’s done right). One of the inspirations I turned to when making my own fake-documentary feature was Ti West’s “The Sacrament.”

“The Sacrament” is a faux-documentary thriller in which a small VICE camera crew (played by AJ Bowen, Kentucker Audley, and Joe Swanberg) travels to a secluded religious community, where people who were down on their luck come together to live in peace and serve the community founder, simply called “Father” (Gene Jones). Everything seems fine, until they come across some members who beg them to take them away from here. With that tension comes the paranoid possibility that the crew will return home to reveal too much about the community. And with that…comes complete chaos.

The trailer tried to be clever in hiding where this whole ordeal is going, but even if you haven’t seen the movie already, you can tell where this story is going: it’s based on the Jonestown massacre.

But even so, “The Sacrament” is a gripping thrill ride. Once everything goes to hell, it’s just a question of which of our main characters could survive and how long it will take before they finally make their way out of this horrible experience. And unlike most first-person-perspective movies, I’m not wondering why the characters keep filming everything–they’re a media group getting as much of the story as they can in the hopes that they can get out of this situation with their lives and reveal it to the world. I buy that.

And because I buy that, I’m constantly on-edge when everything goes from bad to worse, because we’re seeing things mostly through the eyes of our protagonists, whether they’re hiding from armed guards or running to a new location. We even get disturbing footage from the antagonists as well, after they take one of the cameras–the most brutal scene that comes from this is a static-shot scene in which someone is forcibly poisoned and dies in his sister’s arms. The poor guy…

Oh, and I should also mention that because our heroes are camera operators & documentarians, that creates a perfect alibi to keep shots steady, except for when they’re running for their lives while filming! It’s the little things that prevent criticism…except for when it comes to people who claim the idea of exploiting the Jonestown massacre for horror-movie purposes is in bad-taste. (It’s just a movie.)

Looking Back at 2010s Films: All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (2013)

14 Oct


By Tanner Smith

“All the Boys Love Mandy Lane” is a horror slasher film that is best known for its long-awaited release. It generated a ton of positive buzz at festivals in 2006, including TIFF and SXSW, and then…the studio that bought the rights decided not to release it for some reason. (Damn it, Weinsteins.) Then after it had already had a UK release long before, it was already released briefly in limited theaters before hitting VOD and DVD in late 2013 (thus barely making it qualify for my series of Looking Back at 2010s Films). And then the film that garnered a ton of good press at these festivals didn’t seem so special, with many reviews that said there’s hardly anything special about it apart from the gritty, grindhouse-like cinematography is top-notch.

What do I think of it? Well, at first, I didn’t think it was anything too special (though the cinematography was pretty nifty)…but that didn’t stop me from revisiting it again a few more times on Netflix. Much of the reason I like to watch it again has to do with the ending (which I’ll get into in a moment).

The film is well-directed, by Jonathan Levine. This was Levine’s first film, and while it’s a shame his debut got shelved for seven years, I am glad he made three well-received films (“The Wackness,” “50/50,” “Warm Bodies”) while waiting for this one to get released. By the time most of us got to see “All the Boys Love Mandy Lane,” we already knew it’d be well-directed. It’s well-acted, from actors who’d go on to other things in the waiting, including Amber Heard, Michael Welch, Whitney Able, Edwin Hodge, and Luke Grimes (who I’ll always know as Enoch from “War Eagle, Arkansas”–Fifty Shades of what?). But what did throw a lot of people off upon seeing it for the first time in 2013 was that up until the ending, it’s…well, let’s be honest, just another horror slasher film–a bunch of teens go partying at a secluded farmhouse, try to get their hookups, drink, do drugs, and then get slaughtered by an unknown psycho. (Though, unlike most modern horror films, it was shot on film and given a gritty aesthetic that calls back to horror films of the ’70s.) So why did it get all that hot buzz at festivals? I think it has to do with the ending and what the film means in hindsight–that’s why I revisited it myself. It seems like a teenage coming-of-age story disguised as a slasher film–it’s like “Dazed and Confused” meets “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.”

The “Mandy Lane” in the title refers a high-school girl (Amber Heard) who was very awkward before she blossomed over the summer. Now, every guy wants her and, as evidenced in an opening scene, will do anything for her. Some guys invite her to a ranch out in the country, and some other guy starts to kill them one-by-one. Is there some kind of connection between the killings and Mandy Lane? Is she next?


Mandy was a social outcast before every jerk on campus wanted to sleep with her. When her friend Emmet (Michael Welch) convinced one of them to jump off a roof to impress her, Mandy started to realize the lengths these jackasses would go to for her. Watching the film again, a few looks she gives early in the film actually did hint that she was more devious than she was letting on (it’s also hinted that she had a messed-up childhood, though it’s not really explained). In the end, it all turns out that this night was part of a murder-suicide pact, with Emmet enacting all the murders of the partygoers, most of which were guys who were trying to one-up each other for the alpha-male position in attempts to seduce Mandy. They’re all like predators…only they didn’t realize Mandy was the predator, manipulating everyone’s emotions, both the guys’ and the girls’, everyone who thought they had a chance at scoring with her, getting her to try some other things, etc. But when Mandy and Emmet reunite, she realizes that Emmet did all this for her, showing her that he’s no better than the rest of them. So, Emmet dies, while Mandy survives, with the local farmhand, Garth (Anson Mount), getting her out of there…and it seems she can control his emotions too.

Seeing the film again with that knowledge made it more interesting, as I realize there’s more on this film’s mind than graphic violence (there isn’t even that much gore to be found). It actually captures both male and female insecurities (guys trying to one-up each other, girls’ body issues) in a unique way that could actually speak well and directly to high-school teens. The characters aren’t bad people; they’re just dumb, naive, insecure high-school kids, which makes their tale all the more tragic.

“All the Boys Love Mandy Lane” deserved more than it got. It definitely didn’t deserve to spend seven years on the shelf, when all the studio execs could’ve done was sit on it for a little bit, rather than let their minds be influenced by a negative test screening…ONE negative test screening…did they forget all the positive press from some of the highest-ranking film festivals in the country??

Again, nice move, Weinsteins.

Looking Back at 2010s Films: The Creep Movies (2014, 2017)

14 Oct


By Tanner Smith

I’m a supporter of the found-footage/fake-documentary format, but I should emphasize that I’m only a fan of it *when it’s done right.* When it is, it can make for an effective thrill ride in putting the viewer in the shoes of the character holding the camera, and thus making the viewer an inactive part of the story.

Don’t get me wrong–there are some terrible ones; but the ones that make us wish they’d go away only make the good ones good enough to make us wonder what else could be done with the approach. Some of my favorite examples include not only the popular ones like “The Blair Witch Project” and “Cloverfield” but also “The Sacrament,” “The Visit,” “Chronicle,” “V/H/S,” “REC,” and…the “Creep” movies.

“Creep” was a microbudget indie thriller created by Mark Duplass and Patrick Brice, who just decided at one point to go out to a cabin in some woods and make their own movie in which a videographer may or may not be in danger of his “creepy” subject. This was a brilliant setup for the first-person perspective setup, with our main character being a videographer named Aaron (played by Brice, who also directs the film) and filming his experience in answering an ad for a strange man named Josef (Duplass) who asks him to follow him around with his camera for a couple days. When Josef who’s already shown to have very strange qualities becomes even more disconcerting, we have no idea where this film is going to go and neither does Aaron–we ourselves are with it along with him, trying to piece some things together. THAT is how you do a found-footage/faux-doc movie!

OK, now I have to talk about the ending so that I can talk about the film’s sequel, “Creep 2″…even though “Creep 2” itself is already a spoiler for “Creep” anyway. So, SPOILER ALERT!!!

The whole film, this whole time, has been edited by Josef long after he took Aaron’s footage for himself…after killing Aaron and filming himself doing it. It turns out Josef is a serial killer who loves to make movies out of his murders, with beginnings, middles, and endings…..yikes.

Again, THIS is how it’s done with the subgenre! It’s chilling and disturbing in all the right ways.

“Creep 2,” I think is even better. Brice & Duplass didn’t just remake “Creep”; they continued the story with something that I can’t recall having seen in any horror film–Duplass’ serial-killer character, whose real name is NOT Josef apparently, is going through a midlife crisis…the serial killer is going through a midlife crisis…

That’s just oddly fascinating.

This time, the videographer he’s brought on board for his next project is amateur web-series creator Sara (Desiree Akhavan). As soon as she arrives at his cabin, he makes it quite clear to her that he’s a killer, and he announces that he asked her to come make a film about his own end, thus creating his “magnum opus.” Sara is smart enough to keep on-guard but isn’t quite sure exactly where he’s going with this. Where this goes…let me just say I’m curious to see “Creep 3,” if it does go anywhere.

And yes, there is a “Creep 3” in the works. I’ll be interested to check it out!

Both “Creep” movies are on Netflix–I recommend you check them both out for a good scare or two!

Looking Back at 2010s Films: The Guest (2014)

14 Oct


By Tanner Smith

Continuing my series of Looking Back at 2010s Films, here’s the setup to “The Guest”: a stranger named David (Dan Stevens) arrives to a family’s house, saying he was a friend of their late son who served and died in combat, and after he earns their trust, he slowly but surely reveals his true colors as someone diabolical…

It sounds familiar, but it doesn’t feel familiar. But unlike “The Gift,” which also did something different with a familiar setup, “The Guest” isn’t interested in providing psychological insight into human behavior while providing a familiar setup. Instead, it’s just a good fun time, with action, comedy, horror, and occasional drama. And it never takes itself too seriously–it’s like if “The Hand That Rocks The Cradle” combined with “The Terminator.”

There’s more than a handful of good, memorable scenes in “The Guest.” One of my favorites is when David protects the youngest son (Brendan Meyer) against some school bullies, follows them to a bar where they’re too young to be drinking, and totally trashes them, blackmailing the bartender not to say anything. Both “The Guest” and “John Wick” were released in the same year–I’d easily rival this scene in “The Guest” with the club scene in “John Wick.”

Of course, things are not right with David, who turns out to be sinister (though thankfully vague in his reasons as to why). And it leads to a fight to survive…in a Halloween funhouse maze…with ’80s-’90s techno music playing throughout! What a way to end a thrill ride, right?!

Well, at least, the climax made me forget my little gripes I have about the film, like a few slow portions (particularly in the middle act) and some poor acting from side roles. And there’s also Dan Stevens. This was my introduction to him, having not seen one episode of “Downton Abbey,” and he’s fantastic in this film. One moment, he’ll be a cool guy to have a beer and chat with…then the next, he’s hurling grenades in a diner, killing all inside.

Side-note: there’s a little pet-peeve I have with these movies, when someone tries to tell someone else some horrible news and the response is “You’re just saying that.” Why would somebody just say something like that?? It’s right up there with “it’s only the wind” as one of my biggest pet-peeves in horror movies.

Looking Back at 2010s Films: Don’t Breathe (2016)

14 Oct


By Tanner Smith

“Don’t Breathe” is a tense white-knuckler that seems like a fun thrill ride until you’re suddenly thrust into WTF-land! Imagine a rollercoaster that starts slow, picks up speed, takes you on terrifying close calls, brings you ups and downs…and then all of a sudden, instead of giving you one quick downward finish, it stops at the top of the track, shakes violently, backtracks real quickly, and then goes back to its usual route (THEN it gives you the quick downward finish)!

That’s this movie!!

“Don’t Breathe” could’ve worked as a well-done b-movie…and then it delves into sick, serious territory with a torture scenario that’s as outrageous as it is terrifying. I won’t give it away, but…yecch!

That could easily be a slam against the movie, but it works as a solid horror film nonetheless. I didn’t see the twist coming…I’m never going to forget it either. I’m getting chills just thinking about it.

And no, I’m not giving it away here.

Our protagonists are three young thieves (Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto) who burglarize enough wealthy homes to get enough cash to leave their hometown of Detroit. They hear about a house in a sketchy neighborhood that supposedly has a bundle of money stashed somewhere inside. They decide to steal the loot at night, while the house owner (Stephen Lang) is asleep. The guy is an old military vet, and he’s blind–he wouldn’t cause any trouble if he woke up and discovered someone was in his house…would he?

Oh yes….yes he would.

So now, our heroes are trapped in the house with a blind man who’s not as helpless as he appears. And he’s not about to let his burglars leave…alive. They try everything they can in order to escape, but the guy is one step ahead of them most of the time, and…it turns out there’s a very disturbing secret he’s hiding…that’s all I’ll say about that.

It’s all a lot of fun, until it gets to that revelation, when we’re just thinking to ourselves, “No no no no no NO NO NO NO NO!!!” (Or maybe that was just me.) The film does pick up speed again during the climax, which features a tense killer-dog moment that rivals any moment I’ve seen in “Cujo” or ‘Man’s Best Friend.”

Seriously, that twist reminds me of something I’d find in “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”…fittingly enough, this film’s director Fede Alvarez also directed “The Girl In the Spider’s Web.”

Looking Back at 2010s Films: ParaNorman (2012)

14 Oct


By Tanner Smith

“ParaNorman” is a fun, well-animated Halloween horror-adventure film…but it’s actually more than that.

It’s another creepy stop-motion animated film, though I wouldn’t confuse it with “Coraline” or “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (both good in their own ways). The plot involves Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee) as an odd outcast kid who sees ghosts. One of the ghosts warns him of a witch’s curse that haunts his small hometown. The deceased are brought back as zombies, and Norman, along with four peers, have to race to put them back to rest before the witch returns and destroys everything and everyone in town.

Without giving too much away, it turns out the question as to who the real monsters are is more complicated than it seems. The zombies walk about town, and of course, the townspeople are frightened (and in a funny twist, the feeling becomes mutual when the locals fight back). But as Norman and his friends find out, it’s not the zombies or the witch that’s haunting the town and the characters–instead, it’s the past. Terrible decisions made in the past come back to haunt the town, much of which has to do with refusing to accept the things the majority calls strange and unusual. It’s a tragic story that makes you feel for the characters and become more invested in what’s happening.

It’s not easy to accept a family Halloween film that warns its audience that THEY could become the monsters they fear–and THAT’s why “ParaNorman” deserves to be treasured.

THIS lost Best Animated Feature to “Brave”?!

Looking Back at 2010s Films: Split (2017)

12 Oct


By Tanner Smith

Continuing my series of Looking Back at 2010s Films, for me, the best kind of film is the film you don’t expect to like/love as much. They’re far more interesting than the films you go in expecting to like/love, because with those films, they’re usually exactly what you expect to see, without much of a surprise. And those films keep people from coming back to them so often. But when other films contain twists and turns to keep the story coming and going, you can go back and rewatch those films with the knowledge you have from the first viewing and look at them in a different way. Maybe you’ll think less of them because things don’t add up as well as you thought, but then again, maybe you’ll like them even more because you know there’s more to discover and admire about them.

When it comes to M. Night Shyamalan, when he can succeed at this sort of thing, he can make some great films that get better the more you watch them. “The Sixth Sense,” “Unbreakable,” “Signs,” “Split”–these are four of Shyamalan’s films you have to watch more than once. (Even a few more viewings of “The Village,” which I know a lot of people hate, are worthwhile in order to understand it more.)

“Split” was a big risk for Shyamalan to take. He had to put total faith in his audience to stay with it all the way through to the end, even when things get head-scratchingly odd in the final act. And it apparently paid off, as the film was both a critical hit and a financial success. I get the feeling that it was a box-office hit because people had to see the film once, tell their friends to go see it, and then revisit the film to notice more hints and clues that point to the final story-twist making sense.

That’s what I did. And I have to admit, the first time I saw it, I wasn’t sure exactly where the story was going. But I stayed with it because I felt like it leading me somewhere, and I wanted to know where…

Much of the film is based on the idea that hasn’t been entirely scientifically proven about Dissociative Identity Disorder (D.I.D.), that one personality is so different from the others that it can take on physical traits that the others couldn’t handle or the personalities actually become who they think they are. As with similar movies like “Psycho” and “Fight Club,” “Split” isn’t to be taken too seriously–it’s just a thriller that has some fun with the concept. And in “Split’s” case, it’s about a man with 24 different personalities, one of which is a beastly killer known as The Beast. He feeds on those who don’t know true suffering, such as sheltered young people with no problems in the slightest, whom he declares as “impure.” Watching the film again, I realized this was a way to counteract for his host’s tragic abusive childhood (as hinted in a flashback late in the film).

I’m going to go into spoilers here, so SPOILER ALERT!!!

The Beast is real. It changes size, his veins bulge, he climbs walls, he’s super-strong, and seemingly can’t be destroyed–use a knife against him, the blade breaks apart; pelt him with a shotgun, it just barely breaks the skin. It kills (and eats) two of the three girls captured by The Horde (the personalities that serve The Beast’s purposes). Why doesn’t he kill the third girl, our main character Casey Cooke, even though her attempts to fight back are hardly successful? Because he can tell by the scars on her body that she knows what it’s like to understand pain and suffering whereas the other two were probably self-entitled rich girls who had everything go perfectly well for them up until now. By the end of the film, we have it figured out that Casey is often brutally assaulted by her uncle who took her in after her father died. (These are things that aren’t clearly explained, but we pick on them pretty easily.) So now, when Casey behaves the way she does throughout the film, we now understand why during the second viewing. She knows how to survive because she’s been going through this stuff for half of her life.

When she’s finally rescued and her uncle comes to pick her up, she has a look on her face that could read one of two things–either she’s going to stand up to her son-of-a-bitch guardian now that she’s faced unspeakable evil, or she’s going to report him to C.P.S. and be rid of him. Either way, I get the feeling she’s not going to take any more crap from him.

Having seen “Glass,” I was glad to find out that she’s living a happier life. Kudos to Casey!

I love “Split.” It gets better each time I see it, with new things to discover and think about. Shyamalan put a lot of passion into this project, and it didn’t backfire. He thought the whole thing through the same way he thought the story of “The Sixth Sense” all the way through, and it really shows! I haven’t even mentioned the thorough production design, the fitting cinematography, the chilling music score, or even James McAvoy’s brilliant performance in which he has to portray many different personalities with different facial expressions and body language. There’s a lot to this movie even before the big twist was revealed at the end (that “Split” is set in the same universe as “Unbreakable”) that fascinated me simply because it was made by a person who loves movies and respects his audience. I felt glad to see that Shyamalan was BACK in a major way, and um…I’ll talk about “Glass” sometime in the near future.

Looking Back at 2010s Films: Fright Night (2011)

12 Oct


By Tanner Smith

Continuing my series of Looking Back at 2010s Films…you know something? Ratings hardly mean diddly. I like the “Fright Night” remake much better than the “Fright Night” original, and I originally gave them both the same 3-star rating!

To be fair, there’s still much to like about the 1985 original film, starring Roddy McDowell and Chris Sarandon. Two of the reasons are…well, Roddy McDowell and Chris Sarandon. They’re a ton of fun to watch and they were clearly having fun themselves while making the film. McDowell is a riot as a classic-horror icon who finds himself up against real classic-horror monsters and mostly runs away screaming before he finally performs some action, and Sarandon is a suave figure; calm, cool, and collected, thus making him uneasily identifiable as a killer vampire. Then there’s Stephen Geoffreys as the wacky drugged-out kid who becomes a vampire, Evil Ed…I’ve also seen this guy act in films like “At Close Range” and I still don’t know if he was a good actor or not, but by God was he entertaining!

They’re certainly better than the main character, his girlfriend, and his mother, who are so gratingly annoying that I want to embrace the remake even more for making them both likable AND interesting!……Well, OK, I don’t know if they’re THAT interesting, but they are likable enough. That they’re played by likable actors such as the late Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, and Toni Collette makes it even better. (Whoa–Yelchin and Poots in the same film five years before “Green Room?” Nice!)

I like Colin Farrell fine as an actor, but I like him more when he’s playing someone who’s a total ass. Here, he’s a vampire. And while he’s not as subtle as Sarandon in hiding his identity, he’s not terribly obvious either. He walks that fine line between brooding (*cough* Edward Cullen *cough cough*) and actually menacing. He’s also sarcastic and makes snide remarks that seem more threatening in hindsight. Also, and this goes without saying, he is an asshole! (That smiling face he makes when one of his fresh bites vainly attempts to escape is simply priceless.)

Then there’s the matter of Peter Vincent, the reluctant “vampire killer.” In the original, he’s an old out-of-work horror-movie actor who is roped into a situation with real vampires, and he was one of the main characters. Here, he’s an illusionist who is said to be an expert in the dark arts, and he’s more of a side character than anything else. Oh, and he’s played by David Tennant, one of the coolest people in show business today–because of that, it does sort of bother me that he isn’t given as much to do as he could’ve had. However, he is funny and fun to watch and he does lend a helping hand when the chips are down, so I can’t say he’s “wasted” in the role. (“Let’s kill something!”)

Giving Charley (Yelchin) more of a character arc than his original counterpart makes it all the more interesting than if he were just some kid who randomly discovered a monster lives next door to him (and also wanted to get laid). And while we’re on the subject of positive character changes, I also like that his girlfriend Amy (Poots) is more understanding and supportive than her original counterpart (and not so whiny and shrilly all the time). (I mentioned this in my review of the original film–I really don’t like the Charley or the Amy of the 1985 film.) And Charley’s mother is more realistic than the passive, Vicodin-hooked loony the original came off as. Then there’s Ed, who’s more of a nerdy McLovin this time around (fitting–he’s played by McLovin himself, Christopher Mintz-Plasse), but no matter–no one can replace the original Evil Ed and I’m glad they didn’t even try to.

I also like that the remake’s story is set in Vegas and the main characters live in a suburb surrounded by desert. A) As characters mention, it’s the perfect hiding spot for vampires. (“People work the Strip during the night and sleep all day.”) B) Horror movie watchers complain that not enough people call for help; well, there’s hardly any reception in the desert when characters are chased in there, so there’s that.

Speaking of which, that desert chase scene is technically well-executed, with one of those one-shot wonders we reviewers love to marvel upon. Just forget about the subpar CGI and remember the awesomeness of this well-crafted scene.

So, yeah. I like this film. A lot, actually. And honestly, I even forget that it IS a remake until they bring in some obvious callbacks (“You’re so cool, Brewster!”). It’s a fun, entertaining thrill ride (or as someone puts it, “a f**ked-up night”), and I like to pop the DVD in every once in a while for some good vampire fun (well…after “Near Dark,” “The Lost Boys,” and “From Dusk Till Dawn,” obviously).

Looking Back at 2010s Films: Scre4m (2011)

12 Oct


By Tanner Smith

I didn’t like “Scream 4”–oh I’m sorry, I mean “Scre4m”–when I first saw it in theaters. But after watching it again fairly recently, I’ve warmed up to it. It still has its annoying and/or unnecessary moments (the parking-garage scene, the dumb cops, the epilogue), but…at least it’s better than “Scream 3.”

What DO I like about it? Honestly, I think what I like most about it is what the ending means when you think about the movie in hindsight and watch it again with the knowledge. (Yep, “Scre4m” is another one of those “watch-it-more-than-once movies,” in which you learn something new from subsequent viewings.) I won’t give it away here, but I’ll just say it’s kind of a brilliant revelation that shows the increasingly blurred line between celebrity and monster. (It also makes certain characters I thought were bland before even more interesting now.)

I also like the little bits of commentary here and there. (“One generation’s tragedy is another generation’s joke.”) I love the opening prologue with its horror-movie fakeouts and satirical jabs at some of the more annoying horror-movie tropes (such as how certain franchises run on fumes and just do what they can to stay afloat). And I really like Kirby, played wonderfully by Hayden Panettierre–she’s a movie geek with an admiration for the genre, an acid tongue, and thankfully a heart.

I don’t dislike “Scre4m” (I’m going to keep calling it that–it’s like when the “Fantastic Four” poster labeled it “Fant4stic”) as much as I did before. I sort of admire it now. Like “Scream” and “Scream 2,” it knew how to blend horror and comedy well, it knew when to scare and when to spoof and when to provide social commentary (well, for the most part, at least–there are still some forced moments here and there), and unlike “Scream 3,” it actually felt like a “Scream” movie.

Wait…this is a horror sequel about the same woman (Sidney, played by Neve Campbell) who survived a traumatic event years ago, comes back to the place where it all happened, more killings occur involving her and her relatives, and she has to deal with the whole thing again…that sounds almost exactly like the 2018 version of “Halloween!”

Side-note: the “Scream” franchise tries to talk about the rules of horror movies, but lately, I think horror movies are more effective when there are new rules or when there are NO rules. I mean, how can the horror-movie game be changed if the rules stay the same?

Looking Back at 2010s Films: Sinister (2012)

12 Oct


By Tanner Smith

Continuing my series of Looking Back at 2010s Films, “Sinister” is a horror film that features the best kind of jump-scare and the worst kind of jump-scare.

The former occurs when the main character Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) watches one of the sinister snuff films, which features a lawnmower…and suddenly someone is in the lawnmower’s path!

The latter just seems like a lame studio note–the monster, the Bughuul deity, suddenly appears on-screen for one last scare for no good reason other than…Blumhouse Productions wanted one last scare.

(This is not the only time Blumhouse has given us movie endings with cheap jump-scares. They just kept doing it for a while. I think they’ve learned by now not to do it anymore. I mean, would their later films like “Split,” “Get Out,” or ‘The Gift” be any more effective if they all concluded with someone jumping on-screen and shouting “boo”?)

The reason the lawnmower jump-scare worked was because it actually was a legitimate scare. It had appropriate buildup and a scary payoff. It didn’t fake out the audience with a lame joke in which it turned out to be a random noise caused by a friend or a pet or something. (Like a lot of people, I HATE those fakeouts.)

I really like “Sinister.” I like the mystery, I like the looming doom that surrounds the characters, I like Ethan Hawke, and I especially like that it’s co-written by a film critic (C. Robert Cargill of, someone who respects film audiences.

But there’s one other thing I like about the film, and I cannot believe I neglected to mention him in my original review years ago. My favorite character in the film is Deputy So-And-So, played by James Ransome (who recently starred as Eddie in “It: Chapter Two”). He’s the sheriff’s deputy who helps Hawke’s investigative crime-author character figure just what is going on with these snuff films and this Bughuul figure. He could’ve easily been written as dumb and naive, for comic relief. Instead, while he is starstruck by the author and eager to help him any way he can, he’s very bright, and he even manages to figure out the hidden truths before the author is able to. I don’t think he gets enough credit, even from the author himself who even lists him in his smartphone contacts as “Deputy So-And-So.”

I did see the critically-panned “Sinister 2,” which brings back Deputy So-And-So (no, seriously–he’s the lead character this time, and he’s STILL credited as So-And-So), the only recurring character aside from Bughuul. Unsurprisingly, it disappointed. Maybe I don’t need a sequel. I have “Sinister,” and that’s good enough for me…except for that final jump-scare. (Seriously, f*** off.)