Tag Archives: Super 8

A review of “Sinister” (2012). (With a caveat.)

It’s easy to see why “Sinister” (2012) came so highly recommended; this is a startlingly scary horror movie to which I’d give an 8 out of 10.  I was tempted to give it a 9, but some subjective personal tastes prevent me from giving this unusually disturbing film a higher rating.

It’s frightening.  The design of the supernatural Big Bad is quite good, despite its simplicity.  This film succeeds in giving us an intimidating bogeyman.  Far worse is his choice of victims and his modus operandi.  I won’t say much here … this is a movie where we learn about the story’s antagonist because the protagonist is an investigator — true-crime writer “Ellison Oswalt,” wonderfully played by Ethan Hawke.  I also won’t go into precisely how the baddie operates, because it’s just a little too dark to contemplate here.

It’s shot and scripted quite well … there are a number of nice touches, and the basic story is unsettling even by horror movie standards.  A late twist about how the violence is perpetrated is telegraphed in advance, but it still gets under your skin.  The directing by Scott Derrickson is spot on — the “jump moments” are cheap, but they still work.  Derrickson’s and C. Robert Cargill’s script is smartly unnerving — especially with respect to how these crimes are perpetrated.  (Yeesh.)  And the use of unusual and disturbing music is quite effective.  This film was the result of a lot of thought and effort.

Still, a few things suggested to me that this falls short of being a perfect horror movie:

  1.  Common tropes abound.  The most tired, to me, was the use of a horror writer as an ironic protagonist.  That’s an overused device.  The master himself, Stephen King, for example, has used this in no fewer than four novels and their subsequent film treatments, by my count.  (Yes, Hawke here is a nonfiction writer instead of a novelist, but the principle is the same.)
  2. Hawke’s protagonist, as scripted, is pretty damned unlikable.  “Deputy So-and-So” is his most important source, not to mention someone who shows him compassion when things get really tough.  Yet he sticks with that insulting appellation, and even screens his calls, throughout the entire movie.
  3. The bestselling nonfiction writer here has no idea how to cultivate a source.  (See above.)  I’ve been a writer, in some capacity, for my entire adult life, and I started out as a paper jockey.  You treat every source as important, even the crazy ones.  It’s both good manners and proper professional conduct.  And when you deal with any police officer, you’re especially conscientious if you’re smart — people in law enforcement are often (understandably) very sensitive about how they are portrayed in writing.
  4. Ellison Oswalt feels the need to move into a home where a multiple homicide was committed, in order to write about the crime?  That’s just nuts, even by eccentric writer standards.
  5. He chooses not to tell his wife?  I have never been married, but I know from both my personal and professional life that women get really, really pissed off when you neglect to tell them things that they think are important.
  6. Is Oswalt’s wife a Luddite who never googles anything?  I moved to Virginia a year ago, and I STILL google my address because I keep forgetting my zip code.
  7. Oswalt expects no neighbors to share such information with his wife?  (This is lampshaded a bit, as a child brings home the information from his school.)

Finally, there is one subjective matter that kept me from loving this movie — and it is admittedly a matter of taste.  Even as a devoted lover of dark stories, my enjoyment is sometimes affected by films in which children are victimized.  (I am referring here to the children depicted in the 8 MM (“Super 8”) film strips that are discovered by the main character.)

Yes, these are horror movies, and they are intended for adults, and we ourselves should be adult enough to recognize fiction as such.  (Otherwise we can buy a different ticket or click elsewhere among Netflix’ options.)  And plenty of great horror films feature imperiled children.  “28 Weeks Later” (2007) immediately springs to mind for me, probably because it is a favorite.  I think most other genre devotees would point to the universally recognized “The Exorcist” (1973).  But in those films and most others, things were depicted … differently.  (I’m being vague here for fear of spoilers all around.)

I’m a veteran horror-hound; I’ve routinely enjoyed films in which zombies or vampires wipe out humanity.  But what I saw in “Sinister” was too dark even for my taste.  This sort of reaction is rare on my part, but not unprecedented.  “The Devil’s Rejects” (2005) and “Wolf Creek” (2005) both took violence against the innocent too far for me to really enjoy or recommend them.  (Strangely, 1980’s legendary “Cannibal Holocaust” affected me little.)  Yes, zombie apocalypses tend to be gory affairs, but they are almost always faced by grownups, who are unbound, and armed, and generally able to fight back.

I would really  think twice recommending this to the casual filmgoer without a spoilerish hint about its content.  Your mileage may vary.

Hey … if you really want a scary story, check out The Internet Movie Database’s trivia section for “Sinister” after you see the movie.  Read how the “Pool Party” scene was filmed.  That’s … that’s nuts.  Nobody wants a director that committed.  Somebody should have called OSHA.  Seriously.

And here’s a joke for you.  Given the “Super 8” films we see in this movie, wouldn’t it be blackly funny if this film were  sequel to Steven Spielberg’s heartwarming “Super 8” (2011)?  It’s all about the kids, right?


A review of “Super 8” (2011)

“Super 8” (2011) was, as everyone told me, a good movie – I’d give it an 8 out of 10. It had a smart, funny script that made for likeable adolescent protagonists, some nice tension in setting up a sci-fi mystery, and some great special effects (including an impressive train crash that reminded me of the very different “Final Destination” movies). I had fun with this.

I can only enjoy “family films” so much, though. It isn’t that I need violence or sex to be entertained. It’s that these movies are “safe” and therefore predictable. When I realized early on that this was intended for general audiences, it gave me a pretty good idea of what would and would not happen throughout the film. (This film is a mystery that is a little hard to discuss without spoilers.)

The movie was made even more predictable when you realize that director JJ Abrams was consciously imitating a certain other famous filmmaker. Let’s look as what we’ve got: 1) an earnest, vulnerable, yet ultimately heroic adolescent boy; 2) quirky, flawed, yet lovable supporting characters that aid him in his quest; 3) a sci-fi mystery; 4) several family conflicts involving absent parents; and 5) ruthless government and/or military authorities.

Hmmmm. Remind you of anything, anyone?  Hint: see this film’s producer.

There was a little too much heavy handed imagery and plotting. Accidentally turning on a film projector and seeing a dead parent? A flying locket with a picture of said parent? And the locket is let go at the story’s climax? I felt that Abrams would next reach right out of the movie screen and write the movie’s message in black Sharpie marker across my forehead. Just in case I didn’t get it.

Still, this was good. Those kids were so damned cool it made me think it might be fun to be a parent. That heavy kid would actually be really cool to hang out with. If I were his Dad, I’d buy him all sorts of stuff for his hobby of making zombie movies, and I’d let him skip his chores just to give him the space he needs.

This movie also did something pretty creative that I don’t remember seeing done outside of “The X-Files.” We’re shown a government or military conspiracy, but this time the local police department does NOT cooperate or become complicit in it. So you see local cops actively working against their federal or military counterparts. I found that to be different and interesting, and it seems like the sort of thing that might occur in real life.

All in all, this was a good movie. It seems like a pretty decent flick with which to introduce a kid to science fiction.