Movie Review: Sinister (2012)

December 4, 2012 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

It’s rare to see an original horror movie these days and even more unusual to see one starring Ethan Hawke (I think Daybreakers is his only other one), so I made sure I caught Sinister, a movie about a writer who becomes entangled in a bizarre murder-mystery with a possible occult slant.

Without giving away too much, Hawke plays Ellison Oswalt, a true crime writer whose last hit was more than a decade old and is desperately trying to land a homerun to revive his career. He becomes attracted to a chilling case about a missing girl and the hanging of her family from a tree that was caught on film, and relocates to the town where the tragedy occurred — with his wife (English stage actress Juliet Rylance) and two young children — so he can begin work on his ultimate masterpiece.

Despite its unimaginative title, Sinister is actually quite a creative horror film that worked really well for its first half. And unlike most horror films that dissolve into silliness towards the end, Sinister fails in its second half not because of the story but because of stylistic choices by director Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose), who also co-wrote the script.

The film excelled in the beginning because it relied almost solely on its creepy, unsettling atmosphere. The audience is drawn in by this eerie unsolved mystery and what are essentially ghoulish snuff films that are undeniably alarming yet captivating. The scenes with Hawke sitting alone in a dark room watching chilling 8mm home videos can make me shrivel up every time (interpret that as you wish).

So for the first hour or so of the film I was kept at the edge of my seat and I had no idea where the story was heading and whether it even had anything to do with the supernatural. For all I knew it was just a really strange case where lots of unexplained stuff was happening.

At some point, however, the film takes a wrong turn down an alley we’ve all seen too many times with modern horror films. Instead of watching the horror unfold through Ellison’s eyes we begin to watch it unfold around him – in that we get to see things he doesn’t – and this actually removes us from the closeness and proximity to the fear and confusion he’s feeling.

The scares also become more predictable and clichéd. Atmosphere takes a back seat to “boo” moments with grotesque images jumping out in front of the camera purely for cheap thrills. Granted, some of them are effective, especially with the blaring sound effects and music, but it brings Sinister closer to your average horror flick than distinguishes it, which is a real shame.

Fortunately, the film doesn’t fall apart completely. There are still enough twists and turns to keep audiences interested, and Hawke’s solid performance as Ellison, as well as Ryance’s as his very reasonable wife, keep the film afloat through some of its rockier moments. As always with such movies, there are some plot issues that are best ignored (such as how everyone in the house apart from Ellison can sleep through all that noise), but all things considered Sinister is still one of the better horror flicks of 2012.

3.75 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: The Possession (2012)

September 13, 2012 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

The Possession, a supposedly “true story”, has a less than creative title, a cliched plot and employs some very old horror movie tricks. But for all its faults, The Possession IS freaking scary. I know this year hasn’t been a great year for horror films so far, but off the top of my head, I believe it is the scariest horror film I have seen this year, rather easily edging The Woman in Black.

It would be remiss of me to not mention upfront that The Possession is not even close to being “based on a true story.” The film is based on the tale of the “Dibbuk Box”, which is allegedly some kind of haunted Jewish wine box that allegedly brings bad luck to the owner. It became famous after one such box was sold on eBay and, as expected, a bunch of morons thought it would be great to buy it. You can read up on it here, a website dedicated to the story that looks so good it makes me suspicious about everything. In short, none of the stuff that happens in the “real” story happens in the movie.

Anyway, The Possession is about a recently divorced couple played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan (the American Javier Bardem) and Kyra Sedgwick and their two young daughters, one of whom comes across the dibbuk box at a garage sale. Naturally, strange and frightening stuff starts happening, and the parents have to work together to find a way to save their little girl.

Yes, it is yet another movie is about demonic possession of a young girl, but The Possession does have a lot going for it. For starters, unlike the majority of such films, it is genuinely creepy and has some really terrifying scenes, usually amped up by a blaring score that reminded me a little of Psycho. A lot of the scares are typical, classic tricks you might have experienced before, but that doesn’t make them any less effective. The Jewish slant adds a dash of freshness to the concept but also unintentional laughs during the final climax, which has elements of brilliance but didn’t break any new ground in the end.

Some of the “scary” scenes do fall a little flat, especially if you have seen the trailer. There are also some sequences that are too over-the-top for my liking, contradicting what Danish director Ole Bornedal (who did Nightwatch with Ewan McGregor and Josh Brolin, a surprisingly underrated horror flick) said about aiming for the subtlety of The Exorcist,  the greatest horror movie of all time

The Possession does start off with subtlety in mind, but unfortunately by the end it inevitably unravels and goes crazy — unnecessarily so, in my opinion. If you manage to get into the flow of the movie then you might be able to forgive some of the more outrageous scenes that were there merely for the sake of cheap thrills, but if you were sceptical from the outset you might find yourself laughing at how silly and nonsensical it is.

The performances of Morgan and Sedgwyck were strong, as were those of the two girls that played their kids, Natasha Calis and Madison Davenport. You really do get a sense of a familial bond between the four of them. One of the biggest and scariest shocks in the movie was discovering that Sedgwyck’s boyfriend in the movie is played by an initially unrecognizable Grant Show! Yes, I’m talking about Jake from Melrose Place!

The Possession is not what one would expect to be a good movie, and strictly speaking, it isn’t. But if it is just scares you are after, you may not find a more effective film this year.

3.5 stars out of 5!

 

Game Review: Devil May Cry 4 (PS3)

April 24, 2010 in Game Reviews

I still remember when the first Devil May Cry came out and blew everyone away with its impressive graphics, cool characters, terrific bosses, and the exciting and action-packed gun+sword gameplay.  In its fourth incarnation, Devil May Cry 4 has moved to the PS3, and visually it’s more impressive than ever.  However, in almost every other facet of the game, DMC4 has gotten a little more stale, a little less innovative, a lot more repetitive, and a lot less enjoyable.

It’s still a decent game, especially if you liked its predecessors and want to enjoy the power of the PS3 at a discounted price (as the game was released in 2008).  But to be honest, DMC4 probably should be the last in the series unless the makers are willing to take some risks and bring some freshness to the franchise.

Read the full review after the jump!

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