61 Days of Halloween: Sinister 2 (2015)

The life of a horror sequel is not an easy one. Invariably, whether from the fandom that spawned the sequel or the critical masses, a continuation will be far more scrutinized it seems. Not to worry, Dear Reader, I am not opening up the Pandora’s Box that is editorializing on the agglomeration of reviews, or even fan reaction. I’m pointing out that while I was anticipating this film highly, I too went in ready to be overhyped and possibly disappointed, as the original was one of the tops of 2012, but I must say I walked away most certainly pleased.

One of the biggest successes it that it is indeed an expansion of the mythos, a further closer look rather than a straight-up regurgitation that many series seem to covet, and at times audiences seem to demand. A classic example would be how Carpenter originally had designs on the Halloween series always telling different tales on All Hallows’ Eve, yet he only managed to steer the films away from Michael Myers once.

Sinister 2, follows-up and picks up with Ex-Deputy So & So (James Ransone) from the first installment. He’s back but having found no satisfactory resolution in his own mind he continues to seek out properties where similar occurrences happened that can be linked to the demon Bughuul.

Sinister 2 (2015, Universal)

Almost immediately the film puts you in a new frame of mind, ready for anything, as it seems to be playing a temporal trick. By casting one of the boys (Robert Daniel Sloan) and making him look a lot like a young Ransone; and having few telltale signs of era you wonder for a bit if these sequences aren’t flashbacks to his past. This is quickly cleared up and cleverly played into. With this trick played, and explained away ,you’re prepared to tread a different path.

Another differentiating factor is the interweaving a naturally fearful situations: namely the custody dispute and domestic violence themes displayed by the contentious relationship that Courtney (Shannyn Sossamon) and Clint (Lea Coco) enact. Coco is chillingly convincing as a sociopathic, abusive, ex-husband. This just adds a layer to the terror, which is natural rather than supernatural.

Further layering this tale is the shift in perspective from that of a terrified father (Ethan Hawke) learning of this strange, dark past through these home movies; to the children targeted to be sacrificed to and to make offerings to Bughuul. What is brilliantly left behind the curtain in the original is revealed here, and examined with results that are nearly as terrifying, and just as captivating.

The children herein also play well on a classic horror trope: that of twins. This film differentiates itself first by making them fraternal, and secondly by having these two have entirely distinctive personalities. This is also intimated early on by one subtle fact: they do not share a room. Just having mom have separate bedtime visits in different rooms and talk to each about the other makes an immediate statement.

Sinister 2 (2015, Universal)

Having the children be more the focus means they have to a little more this time around than just look the part of scary ghost or unfortunate victim. Starting with the twins played by Robert Daniel and Dartanian Sloan they are expertly cast and play their types to a tee. When necessary they emote precisely namely Robert Daniel engendering sympathy and pity, exuding fear; Dartanian on the other hand inhabits the role of bully and can strike fear, and causes shock in the blink of an eye.

Those children who are apparitions are also allowed to have their moments namely Lucas Jade Zumann as Milo who delivers the most hypnotically serpentine performance by a young actor since Frank Dillane in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

Delving further in to the plot there are great single-scene subplots like the Norwegian Hell-Call, which I wouldn’t mind seeing a whole spinoff film about, and also the clever excision of Vincent D’Onofrio’s character. Granted it was likely due to scheduling more than anything else, but it works and leaves the door open for a return if needed.

Sinister 2 (2015, Universal)

Coincidentally, I saw Sinister 2 with the same large group of friends as I saw the first one, and it similarly caused quite a bit of discussion afterwards. When more often than not the reaction after a horror film is tepid apathy, or worse disgust (I’ll never forget the reaction at my screening to The Devil Inside); this is least one can ask for but it goes further than that.

Much but not all of what made Sinister a success was its witty retort to the standard found footage approach. However, what the Sinister films have found it seems is a mythology that it’s exploring to its fullest based on the self-assigned parameters of each film. Sinister, like the Purge, leaves fans wanting more, but in Sinister’s case it’s not a backhanded compliment but rather the highest praise.

Advertisements

The Best Horror Films of 2012

I was better at tracking my views, and it was a better cinematic year overall in my estimation, so this list has expanded to 15 selections this year.

15. Absentia

Absentia (2011, Constellation, Phase 4)

This is a case of faith rewarded. The beginning is a little rocky but I saw something in it that made me stick with it and I was rewarded several fold. The film really picks up in all aspects of production as the details of the narrative start to fall into place. It’s most certainly worth a look.

14. The Hidden Face

The Hidden Face (2011, Fox International Productions)

Fans of cinematic frames should rejoice at this film, which I will grant will likely grow from a revisit. It’s a very well orchestrated and constructed, twisted tale.

13. Cold Sweat

Cold Sweat (2010, Dark Sky Films)

Bring out the skeletons from your collective sociopolitical closets and great horror can be found. Cold Sweat really takes that premise and expound on it moreso than many other Argentine horror films I saw in a row this year. It’s expounding takes some suspension of disbelief but is quite effective.

12. Silent Night

Silent Night (2012, Anchor Bay)

This film has tremendous fun with its premise. Evil Santas of all shapes, sizes and styles should be on the comeback trail because there really is a tremendous amount of latitude there if you’re willing to trek it. Steven C. Miller makes his first of two appearances on this list and having seen two of his films I’ll be on the lookout for more. This film features some great supporting turns. It was also filmed in Manitoba, who seems to be positioning itself as a new hotbed of production in the Great White North, and I can see why based on the locales used here.

11. Excision

Excision (2012,  Anchor Bay Films)

Excision, moreso than any other film on this list, has a possibility to have its reputation blossom over the years to come. This film very much inhabits the mind of its protagonist. This film does not fear exposing the the delusions of its main character opaquely, slowly revealing a plan of action that unfolds with precise and exacting horror. The film also features a number of great performances and very well-cast players including AnnaLynne McCord, Traci Lords and Jeremy Sumpter. It is definitely the one film on the list that warrants warning the faint of heart or stomach not to apply.

10. Whisperer in the Darkness

The Whisperer in Darkness (2011, HPLHS)

While I can’t say this is as successful as The Call of the Cthulhu in transcending it period-mimicking trappings; it does again choose the right time period and cinematic style for its Lovecraft adaptation. If the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society continues blending old-style cinematic ethos with mythos they’ll have hits for years to come.

9. The Monitor

The Monitor (2012, Grindstone Entertainment Group)

Here’s one you could pigeonhole as psychological horror. It features two very strong lead performances by Noomi Rapace and Kristoffer Joner. It hints at a rather big twist early and delivers on more to follow to keep things intriguing. Mind-play, particularly in the horror genre, is under-utilized and can be highly effective and is used quite well here.

8. The Aggression Scale

The Aggression Scale (2012, Achor Bay)

You can call it a crime thriller if you like, and I’ll spend minimal time on this point, but I will address why I consider it horror. I don’t feel it’s a stretch. Any film that deals with home invasion can be considered horror if it plays towards that realm. Home Alone, which I compare this film to, never allows itself to be taken too seriously, this film ups the stakes, maims and kills people and is serious in tone, so: horror. Just because the villains are unmasked, in organized crime and have clear motives doesn’t make it less horrific.

The Aggression Scale also functions in large part due to the fact that it builds its character, in fact, quite a bit more than its situation at first. When things start coming to a head the two converge and the escalation of narrative intensity is quite great.

7. The Possession

The Possession (2012, Lionsgate)

I had better tracking of films and more horror watched this year, so the likelihood of another possession tale ending up on the list was actually lessened unless it was little better handled than last year’s pick. The Possession most certainly is. The Possession concerns itself less with differentiating details though Judaism, Dybbuk boxes and the like are new, as it does with character development, and that’s what makes it effective.

6. ParaNorman

ParaNorman (2012, Focus Features)

In some ways, I can’t help but feel that this film’s balance keeps it lower here than it should be. ParaNorman splits time between doing a lot of things, and it does so in a horror milieu but isn’t always a traditional horror film. However, since it’s excellent at whatever it does it belongs. ParaNorman not only tackles feeling like an outsider, a child coming to grips with death himself, and in essence that tired phrase coming-of-age, but in horror terms it also more effectively draws a distinct parallel between protagonist and antagonist by having him experience the anguish and isolation of the victimizer when they were victimized. However, especially since it’s ostensibly designed for kids, ParaNorman never sugarcoats the wrongdoing of its antagonist; it explains, it even empathizes but never forgives it – it states the obvious: you’re not getting out of it what you think you are. The zombies feeling persecuted and being persecutors is also a great touch such that reversals are near-constant.

I had yet to write about it so I could further discuss what ParaNorman does in other regards, but that’s about as succinctly as I can cover the horror angle.

5. [REC] 3

[REC] 3 (2012, Magnet Releasing)

Yes, [REC] 3 went somewhere I wasn’t expecting it to either, but I rather enjoy it nonetheless. In this film there are thematic expansions and new veins of thought explored if not literally picking up pre-exisiting narrative threads, which is all fine by me. It all comes down to how it’s done.

4. Intruders

Parallel narratives can be a double-edged sword. I’ve seen this film twice and it really works in both viewings in one I was naively accepting and offering no guesswork, in the second I knew it all and enjoyed it nearly as much as the first time. It’s a bilingual tale with a sensibility many horror fans will be familiar, one that’s uniquely Spanish even in the English portions of the film. It’s a different kind of approach to apparitions that I enjoyed.

3. Sinister

Sinister (2012, Blumhouse Productions)

You’ll note that this is the only title on this list in which any footage is even found, not that I’d consider this film a found footage approach per se. What Sinister does is take the concept of malevolent celluloid a step further than most and build a story around the film and not strap it diegesis or camerawork to a narrator-cum-camera. Sinister also interestingly works again with a male protagonist, oft times alone who is very expressive and his fear allows us to fear. Silence or gasping is scarier than incessant screaming. That’s just one thing Sinister understands so much better than many other films.

2. The Woman in Black

The Woman in Black (2012, Hammer Films))

There’s just something about Gothic horror tale done well that will affect me like few others do. There’s a primal hearkening to the sensitivities ingrained in us. The pitfall of the subgenre is that its been done to death and knowing tropes and protocols makes it hard for a style so old hat to work. However, there are some tweaks, techniques and approaches that dress up this old favorite and make it more effective than most.

1. The Cabin in the Woods

The Cabin in the Woods (2012, Lionsgate)

It’s one thing to deconstruct a genre, however, it’s another entirely to reconstruct it following said evisceration and build a beautifully grotesque new prometheus in its stead. It’s the second half of its master plan that put The Cabin in the Woods over the top.

Best Films of 2012: 20-16

I try to keep my mind as open as possible during the year and as you start assembling a list like this you see there could be perceived slights. The fact of the matter is making this list was brutal. More than once I had to consider if I can stick to a previously made proclamation, more than once I jotted down additional titles to see if they could slide into the top 25.

20. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011, Fox Searchlight)

Here’s a film that vaults onto this list after a personal recommendation. It’s a condemnation of trailers, a triumph of narrative and ensemble film acting. It’s a well-balanced tale of parallel narratives that hearkens back to Love Actually for me, however, has more varied and universal themes, and also some contemporary global commentary.

19. Goon

Goon (2011,  Magnet Releasing)

I wrote a lot about Goon after I first saw it, and it hurts even more to do so now seeing as how the NHL is well on its way to losing a full season for the second time in my adult life. It’s no coincidence that I write this with a teutonic team’s hat resting upon my head. Psychological baggage aside, this is a film that develops its characters, humor and story very well; and it celebrates, understands and embraces the sport its about better than most.

18. Sinister

Sinister (2012, Blumhouse Productions)

I love horror films so I typically will make a genre-related list to highlight those titles, but that won’t stop me from including genre titles here so Sinister takes this spot and is the first of a few that will appear on this list. It takes a popular current trope uses it better than most, expands upon it, builds suspense, a lot of character, has a fantastic score, occasional needed comic relief; and a hell of a lot of impact. It’s one of those movies that affected my real life, as I know have a flashlight app on my iPhone.

17. The Woman in Black

The Woman in Black (2012, Hammer Films))

On my horror list I discuss my general feelings on Gothic horror, they are positive but it’s a hard subgenre to tackle because it’s so classical and commonplace. For this film to do what it does, as well as it does, in this day and age, is triumphant indeed.

16. In the Family

In the Family (2011, In the Family)

This is a film that has had quite an adventurous, long and winding release pattern. It is a film that actually appeared on Slant’s best of 2011 list and has flown under the radar for most. However, for many of those who happen upon it, it’s made quite an impact. I was fortunate not only to have it play near me, but also that I decided to go as I nearly didn’t. It is a well-told, interestingly constructed, dramatically rendered and universal telling of what could seem like a niche tale of custody battle between surviving family members and a same-sex domestic partner.

That Movie Sucked: Trailers That Give Too Much Away

I had a recent Twitter conversation with Larry Richman, after he had attended an advance screening of Someone Like Us, and he had some interesting thoughts on the film. I told him I was glad to hear some of them after having seen the trailer. When he watched the trailer he confirmed what I feared: The trailer essentially gives away the entire movie.

I am doing my best to forget the details of said trailer before seeing it and won’t link to it here, but it does raise the point about why trailers feel the need to be so spoiler-laden. Now, there are certain realities I know and acknowledge, such as: I believe (and correct me if I’m wrong) it’s mainly the marketing department (in a studio) in collaboration with the producers who select highlight type moments, good footage and shop them out to companies who specialize in cutting trailers together. They usually get two or three different versions and choose one. Essentially, it’s a sub-contractor relationship. However, this outsourcing of the job isn’t the only reason that over-sharing in trailers occurs, if you ask me. The first part is that some involved with the film select segments to supply the bidders. So the selection has to be a bit more guarded.

What is going to compel me to see a movie is not necessarily knowing the synopsis, not that synopses are innocent of giving away too much (far too often on the back of a film you are told not just the first act break but the second also). What will compel me is getting a sense of the tone of the film with some compelling images that make me wonder “What’s that about? I have to see that!”

Some notable examples of this for upcoming films are:

Les Miserables (Teaser)

The Road (2012)

Even way back when in the Golden Age and before when audiences were not as sophisticated in certain respects as they are now, trailers disseminated information through voice-over and text but not too much of the story was seen and heard through actual footage:

1930s

Dracula (1931)

When I went to YouTube I just typed in the very generic search of “1930s Trailer” and sure enough I got more or less what I expected. A presentational pitch with hyperbolic text, grandiose announcements and key images that intimate what the film is but give very little real information. A lot of times with older films you were allowed to see a piece (sometimes a large piece) of a scene play out but you had little context by which to understand it. It was all just supposed to be enticing.

1940s

Casablanca (1942)

Approximately a decade later the formula was still pretty much the same. The hard thing is watching trailers for films you’ve seen already, for some the edit seem to be giving away a lot of the story because you know it, but it’s really not. Think of the moments in Casablanca that became iconic and none of them are here the farewell, “Louis, this could be the start of a beautiful friendship…”, “…shocked to find that there’s gambling going on in this establishment”, “As Time Goes By,” etc. Yes, this trailer is selling the adventure and danger much more than it is the romance but it’s not shying away from it either. The ethos is still similar in these two examples compelling images, backdrop, genre, stars but not the whole film.

1950s

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

My favorite professor in film school, Max Simkovitch, was not only great at planning double and triple features but also at screening clips and trailers. Therefore, even if something didn’t quite make it on the syllabus, we were made aware of it and tempted to see it. His horror/Sci-Fi class was where I first got a glimpse of Suspiria and then I had to track it down. We also watched The Invasion of the Body Snatchers there and while I can’t argue that this is a brilliant trailer, it is fragmentary enough in the ethos of its time to succeed. There is the frame of panicked reaction. First, you assume insanity then as images compound you think there’s more to it. The best part is the impact of the film is far greater than the trailer and the trailer doesn’t show it all, or intimate it all either. The bad part is that it doesn’t show you just how very good this movie is.

1960s

Psycho (1960)

Now, I will grant you that there are many things that allow this trailer to be as unique as it is. Firstly, you’re dealing with Alfred Hitchcock one of the greatest directors to ever walk the face of the Earth. However, he was also by this point a TV personality too. So his pitching his own film in an extended trailer is not so odd. However, what’s really brilliant about this Psycho trailer is how it seems to be telling you everything but there is so much misdirection and trickery afoot.

1970s

The Exorcist (1973)

Now, this is absolutely brilliant. There is next to now visual information revealed. There is one high contrast shot of Regan, no clear indication of what many of the shots mean and you don’t see the face of the exorcist. That creates the reaction you want. It gives you the emotional tenor of the film and compels you to want to see it. The voice-over works in conjunction with the images and scenes as opposed to presenting them. This is a clear indicator of the evolution of movie trailers. However, this sophisticated near artistry will in the course of the next forty years of film history will lose its restraint and start to give away too much information.

1980s

The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Granted here’s another case where you’ve got a lot going for you as you set about creating a trailer: this is the follow-up to the most successful box-office smash of all-time as of this trailer’s debut, you have John Williams’ score and incredible visuals. Yet the temptation could exist to overplay your hand but it’s laid back. You have an exciting kinetic montage, with no information of any kind divulged really and the voice-over only comes in at the very end for one line. Perfect.

1990s

Jurassic Park (1993)

I tried to get a Spielberg film on for the 80s, I couldn’t because I thought of E.T. but the trailer I found had an incessant narrator who wanted to delineate every emotional beat in the whole film. With this short, if not brilliant Jurassic Park trailer, I think I re-affirm my point. Spielberg’s images are always strong. Here the story does a lot of the selling anyway, so just briefly touch upon what the chaos in the park is and make it a short, quick sell.

2000s

Peter Pan (2003)

For quite a bit of time I thought of Peter Pan as a standard-bearer of shorts. It had been some time since I had seen the trailer but I remembered how it had set the expectations very high for me, and then I saw the film it lived up to or exceeded practically every one of them. However, it also is a great illustration of how treacherous a game the cutting of trailers is. For above, what you have is the second version of the trailer. Multiple versions of trailers existing is nothing new, but what struck me as most interesting is that the minutest of changes could have such a drastic impact. When I found the #2 trailer I knew pretty quickly it was the one I liked for it seemed a more fragmentary and tonal presentation of this vision of the story whereas the #1 (below) felt a lot like a demonstration “Here’s this part of Neverland and this part and that part.”

The Present

As for the newer crop the trailer fo Dark Shadows is bad, but does contain a similar tonal dissonance to the actual end product. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an excellent trailer.

Dark Shadows (2012)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

A recently compelling one, that convinced not only me, but many people to see the bad movie being hocked, was that of The Devil Inside.

It’s widely acknowledged that the marketing job done by Paramount to make this film a financial success while thudding with critics and audiences alike is astoundingly good. Another recent Paramount win was the viral marketing effort, the introduction of the “Demand It” concept prior to the release of the first Paranormal Activity film. However, regardless of whether you liked the film or not, the trailer is practically all the highlights of the film. Watch below…

Now, I will readily admit that I, as someone who frequents multiplexes and art houses alike and have a tendency to be quite early, such that I watch not only the trailer but the pre-show, will view these more times over than the average spectator. However, the success of the studios, the box-office both domestically and globally relies on everyone, and trailers are one of the best methods to repeat your business. You have a captive audience, a packed auditorium for the latest tentpole, all the big movies want to advertise in front of it. Whereas sometimes commercials work better because they can give less away, a trailer gives you anywhere from 90 to around 150 seconds to give your best pitch. So please try and tantalize not bore.

When a short film of mine Suffer the Little Children got into Shockerfest, we were afforded the opportunity to buy commercial time on local cable airwaves to advertise our screening. With only 30 seconds and my proclivity to tease rather than over inform, this is what I decided to do:

Here you’ve seen quite a few of the major plot points in the story, however, without knowing the Stephen King short story upon which the film is based you don’t necessarily know the context or the significance of the events. The shots come at you quickly, with juxtapositions that are apropos of nothing and little dialogue is heard. You are given the tone of the piece and some allusions as to what it’s about but you are not told everything. That’s as it should be I feel, even given more time to play around.

Far too often, after seeing a trailer, I will snidely say to myself “That movie sucked.” Now, of course, I’ve learned that the trailer is never a good indicator of what the film is. However, while I do want to be compelled to see the film by the trailer I don’t want to feel like I watched the movie. I felt John Carter, despite other marketing missteps at least attempted to compel with images first and not giveaway all the plot intricacies therein. The removal of the qualifier ‘of Mars’ from the title, the reticence to be upfront about the literary pedigree of the tale right off the bat likely had more to do with its failing, than a trailer that didn’t spoon-feed absolutely everything.

I think above there are plenty of examples of how to do it and how not to do it, and I hope that we get more good than bad in the future. However, in the meantime caveat emptor, buyer beware is definitely a motto to live by. Most recently I heard warnings to stay away from the trailer for Sinister. He is correct. The movie does look very good but there is much information in the trailers. So happy viewing but try and avoid spoilery trailers.