31 Fright Nights: Halloween 2017, Night #21 – Sinister (2012)

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Director: Scott Derrickson

Writer(s): C. Robert Cargill & Scott Derrickson

Studio/Distributor: Summit Entertainment/Momentum Pictures

Budget: $3m

Box Office: $77.7m

Release Date: 5 October, 2012

IMDb Rating: 6.8/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 63%

UK Blu Ray release? Yes

Cast

Ethan Hawke – Ellison Oswalt

Juliet Rylance – Tracy

Fred Dalton Thompson – Sheriff

James Ransone – Deputy

Michael Hall D’Addario – Trevor

Nicholas King – Bughuul

Trailer

Plot According to IMDb

Washed up true crime writer Ellison Oswalt finds a box of super 8 home movies that suggest the murder he is currently researching is the work of a serial killer whose work dates back to the 1960s.

Inertia’s Insight

When the idea for your screenplay is based on your own nightmare, you’re already half way towards a decent horror film. The concept of creating a dreamlike horror led to Sinister, another low budget Blumhouse production that drew A-list talent in Ethan Hawke, in turn drawing audiences to the box office.

From the first frame this film establishes its tone. The long, agonising and horrific opening sequence, shot with super 8 film, is difficult to watch – and these are only the opening moments. The hideous music – if you can call it that – with the scratchy 8mm and soundless, agonising slow death of four people tied to a tree is uneasy to watch. Brutal, mysterious and intriguing from the off.

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True crime writer with the name to match his job, Ellison Oswalt relocates his family to investigate the murder of a family that he thinks will give him his next big story. The local police aren’t happy to have him here and his kids don’t want to be either, but Ellison continues to pursue the truth despite the grim reality he unearths with every new super 8 film he finds.

These super 8 films are what sets this film apart from your standard haunted house/demon after your kids story. They are so genuinely unsettling. The combination of handheld voyeuristic POV perspective, grainy 8mm film and jarring music allow these miniature snuff films to have such a unique effect. With each one they get worse, building to the lawnmower film in which Ethan Hawke’s genuine reaction says everything that we feel about these snuff films.

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But there are also some scary moments outside of these little films. Their son who suffers with night terrors seems to do a pretty good impression of Regan’s spider walk when he emerges from a box, and the scene with the slo-mo ghost kids is brilliant. It provides a fresh new angle on how ghosts move about a house, how they haunt and cause the floorboards to creak. Like a fucked up version of Marco Polo, it sees Ellison driven deeper into the madness that Bughuul brings to the families of his latest victim.

Derrickson perfectly balances the horror with the tension of a damn good thriller. The investigation into the murders builds steadily, with twists and turns unearthing the mystery behind the killings. It works just like a procedural, with the pursuit of the truth driving Ellison further from his family and fracturing their reality. Ethan Hawke is the standout here, not reducing his talents for the genre but rather utilising them to maximum effect.

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The twist is quite fucked up, following the dour tone that the film established from the outset (and revealed via the super 8 films). The ending is so downbeat. Derrickson shoots it with minimal light and long scenes with hardly any cuts. There’s no big reveal or great emphasis on the scene, making the events even harder to watch. Derrickson also plays down the focus on Bughuul (or Mr. Boogie as he’s referred to), instead focussing on him mainly in the super 8 films and drawings on the wall. It’s the right move, allowing the mere reference of him to instill more fear than any sighting of him could. Which is also probably a good job because he looks a bit like Seven from Slipknot…

A truly effective and indeed sinister horror film.

Inertia’s Ideal Score ( out of 5)

★★★★

Trivia

  • Writer C. Robert Cargill got the idea for the script from a nightmare he had after watching The Ring
  • There is very little blood, almost no cursing and no sex, but the film still gained an R-rating
  • The super 8 films were actually filmed using super 8 cameras
  • Ethan Hawke had never seen the super 8 films prior to filming. His initial reactions made it in to the final film

Quotes

ASHLEY: Don’t worry, Daddy. I’ll make you famous again.


Tomorrow: Night #22 – Fright Night (1985)

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31 Fright Nights: Halloween 2016, Night #30 – Unfriended (2014)

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Tagline: What Happened to Laura Barns?

Director: Leo Gabriadze

Writer(s): Nelson Greaves

Studio: Universal Pictures

Budget: $1m

Box Office: $64.1m

Release Date: 17th April, 2015

IMDb Rating: 5.7/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 62%

UK Blu Ray release? Yes

Cast

Heather Sossaman – Laura

Matthew Bohrer – Matt

Courtney Halverson – Val

Shelley Hennig – Blaire

Moses Storm – Mitch

Will Peltz – Adam

Renee Olstead – Jess

Jacob Wysocki – Ken

Trailer

Plot According to Google: One night, while teenagers Blaire, Mitch, Jess, Adam, Ken and Val take part in an online group chat session, they are suddenly joined by a user known only as “Billie227”. Thinking its just a technical glitch, the friends carry on their conversation… until Blaire begins receiving messages from someone claiming to be Laura Barns, a classmate who killed herself exactly one year prior. As Blaire tries to expose Billie’s identity, her friends are forced to confront their darkest secrets and lies.

Inertia’s Insight: We now live in an age saturated with technology. A wealth of information (and cat videos) is accessible at the touch of a button, at home or on the go. We are connected across several social media platforms, befriending people we went to school with that we barely shared more than a class with and now we share our lives, baby pictures and Instagram-filtered food shots. This connectivity, particularly with the youth, is apt to cause issues with bullying and provocation that we’ve seen explored in dramas on TV and in film for some time. With Unfriended, the filmmakers have explored the concept of a haunted technical world in which the devastation wrought by the supernatural has more of a personal effect than a physical one. Well, kind of…

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Unfriended is seen entirely from the perspective of Blaire’s laptop – it’s found footage for the digital age, as the cinema screen becomes a Mac interface. iTunes is open, as are several Safari windows with social media and, of course (plug plug), the MTV website. The film starts with Blaire watching a video of Laura Barns’ suicide and the video that caused her demise. It captures our intrigue whilst highlighting the availability of such distressing footage at our fingertips. Interrupted by a video call from her boyfriend Mitch, she stops the video that will come to serve as the driving force behind the film. Blaire and Mitch’s attempt at a bit of cyber fun is interrupted by the beginning’s of an ordinary midweek group chat with all of their friends that becomes a deadly game of life or death.

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The uninvited appearance of the user known only as ‘Billie227′ sparks debate over the identity of this unknown and unseen person. As they interact with it they find that all is not as it should be. At first thinking it to be nothing more than a prank, Laura Barns’ online account starts communicating with Blaire and posting intimate and private pictures of each of the friends from their account, dividing, testing and conquering their friendship.

The use of the computer as the interaction serves the narrative well – our online presence is what we attempt to make of our lives, the bits and pieces we are willing to show that we hope stitch together to form an ideal picture. Seeing Blaire’s computer and private messages shared with Mitch opens her up to us and allows for more of an internal perspective than a by-the-numbers horror film would allow. The only issue with this is that we are left with only a perception of the other characters from their reactions to the ensuing events. This doesn’t turn out to be too much of a problem as they are killed off relatively quickly and in inventive ways.

The video of Laura Barns that led to her suicide is dreadful, a complete invasion of someone’s privacy to the point of it surpassing bullying and almost becoming a criminal offence. But it’s this kind of attitude towards other people’s privacy in this online world that this film effectively highlights. Though they are all sad about the Laura’s passing, the tragedy for them is the way she died and not why she died. The video, to some of them, still appears to be funny, and their attitude towards their friend Val shows that the bullying is practically starting again.

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A game of Never Have I Ever appears to be the undoing of them all, as the unknown “Billie227” pits them against each other, exposing their lies and dividing them until there remains only one. The revelation of who posted the video of Laura that led to her suicide is a surprising one, really sending home the message of cyberbullying and its long, negative impact on the lives of those affected. When Blaire searches for help on Chat Roulette, we see the extent to which our lives are so readily available to people online, and the lack of help given by those she pleads to demonstrates the fact that prank videos on YouTube and social media have numbed us all to real-life tragedies.

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It’s an interesting concept to use Skype and a computer interface as the entirety of the film, an effective payoff that allows for some new and unique scares. The only pitfall is that it becomes tiresome towards the end – the limitation serves well until the point where we are left with just Blaire and Mitch. At this point you’d expect them to slam the laptop shut and run out to each other, or at the very least for an adult to come in and switch the light on, and so without the realistic expectations at this point, the concept grows tiresome, and isn’t saved by the very cheap and ineffective ending.

Inertia’s Ideal Score (* out of 5): * * *

Trivia

  • The film takes place on April 12th, 2014.
  • The film was originally titled Offline, then it was Cybernatural before finally becoming Unfriended.
  • Shot in one long take, in real time, with the characters on actual computers.
  • All filmed in one house with all the cast members in different rooms.

Quotes

ADAM: Fuck you, Blaire.
BLAIRE: I hate you so much, Adam.

BLAIRE: Mitch, do you hate me? Could you ever forgive me, I am so sorry…
MITCH: Blaire – I don’t hate you, I love you… I love you so much.

KEN: Uh-oh! Someone’s in their chonies! Someone’s in their chonies!

All images courtesy of Google


Tomorrow: Night #31 – Halloween (1978)