Sinister 2 and Summer Wrap Up

I wasn’t the biggest fan of the first SINISTER. I thought it had a few creepy moments and I dug the music but it failed in convincing me of its own reality and I’m a pretty easy mark. Still, I was open to a sequel because I figured all the new installment had to do was have a little more respect toward the audience and maybe not require them to leave every shred of their common sense at the door. Well, jokes on me. Not only does SINISTER 2 double down on the rejection of the laws of the physical world and basic human nature, it abandons what worked in the first installment by jettisoning nearly all traces of artistry, nuance or anything that could be perceived as remotely scary. How did this come from the same guy who did 2012’s nightmarish CITADEL (CIARON FOY)? Was he forced to direct hanging upside down from a tree with a bag on his head? I guess there’s not much you can do with a confused and uninspired script but even on a visual level, nearly every frame is loudly lackluster.

The sad thing is I really liked the two charismatic adult leads (SHANNYN SOSSAMON and a returning JAMES RANSONE). I even found myself wishing they were in a romantic comedy or Lifetime Channel domestic abuse drama or just about anything that didn’t involve wet blanket baddie “Bughuul.” Rather than revving up the fear factor, the films signature demon drags everything down whenever he shows up with his senseless home movies that are less unnerving (or believable) than your average Woody Woodpecker short. Seriously, you could throw a stick at a pile of straight-to-video CHILDREN OF THE CORN sequels and be confident in hitting a smarter, scarier flick than this. On the other hand, if you love a bad movie; SINISTER 2 is in a way, more fun than the original but only because it’s laughably dopey and replaces a morose ETHAN HAWKE with burrowing rats, cartoon alligators and the use of the word “rutabaga” in an unprecedentedly dramatic manner.

Sorry, this is why I don’t write reviews anymore. I don’t want to sound like a stick in the mud. I just can’t help thinking that I might have pursued a career in screenwriting if I had known all you had to do was fill pages with whatever came to your head and none of it had to make any coherent sense. If you can’t believably explain how a small child lynches multiple adults just skip over it! If anyone dares inquire further just shrug and inform them it’s a “supernatural thing.” To be fair, I know I must be a fan of at least a couple horror movies that are less credible than SINISTER 2 (Something Italian? I know, how about the end of HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME? I love that movie and that ending is stupefying) so how come I can buy crap in one movie and not the other? For me, the whole “home movie” element demands a certain amount of base realism. In my mind it’s pretty much the point and if you want to take advantage of that highway you have to pay that toll. Even if you reject being grounded in such a way then at least be creative. SINISTER 2 even drops the ball with a Christmas set massacre. How is that even possible?

Hey, as long as the gloves are off let’s say we take a look at some of the other flicks that came out this summer, that way I can get all my disgruntlement out in one fell swoop! Don’t mind my grouchiness. I promise I’ll write an underrated list in the near future as penance and restore positive karma to the land…

THE GALLOWS is pretty much what you think it is (I’m still regretting not seeing JURASSIC WORLD instead). I can’t honestly say it’s any better than SINISTER 2 (it certainly has less likable characters) but it’s got at least one decent scare (the death of a surprisingly convincing CASSIDY GIFFORD) and I enjoyed that the ending leaned towards bonkers. I have to grant it some leniency for having far less resources at its disposal and not having the luxury of coasting on the good favor of a generally well-received movie that came before it. I guess I’m saying the cheap, home grown feel to it was actually a plus for me because it made me nostalgic for the days when you could randomly catch a shoestring budgeted flick at the cinema and I suppose undercooked tastes better to me than over-processed. It stinks but in an affable drive-in sort of way and I have my fingers crossed that the beyond bizarre denouement effects some poor kid the way the ending of SCREAMS OF A WINTER NIGHT did me. I would have certainly preferred it to have not taken the tired found footage route but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I found the backstory and setting more interesting than that of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. Yes, I still hate that movie.

INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3. Let’s face it, Part 3 is “do or die” time for a franchise. Part 3 is when Jason earned his iconic mask and it’s when Freddy became an unstoppable household name. Part 3 is when the makers of HALLOWEEN learned not to overestimate their audience and admit that a certain masked man buttered their pumpkin bread and part 3 is when the world told POLTERGEIST’s Carol Anne Freeling that they were willing to follow her to “the other side” but certainly not Chicago. Part 3, to steal a line from FAME is when you start paying…in sweat! So how did INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 do? It did pretty good considering it now must fight against not only the audience’s familiarity with the series itself but also fatigue from the multitude of other films that have attempted to adopt its style and tone.

INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 smartly switches its focus to a teen in a more urban setting, takes death relatively seriously and has at least one totally horrifying image in the form of a creepily waving silhouette but there is no denying the true ace up its sleeve is LIN SHAYE who is promoted to Captain of the ship. The noteworthy thing is that she is actually shown earning her footing. She starts out freaked, forges for fortitude and finally delivers a line of dialogue that went over so big in the theater I saw it in that it practically took the roof off. The flick has got some flaws and none of it as fresh as it once was but I left the theater satisfied and that makes for a good Part 3.

POLTERGEIST. Can this movie have another title, please? I don’t accept this as a POLTERGEIST movie. SAM ROCKWELL is extremely talented and can convince me of nearly anything and ROSEMARIE DeWITT is like the second coming of CHRISTINE LAHTI in my book but even they are powerless against the shadows of pointlessness that truly haunt this picture. It’s like they wanted to hook up with POLTERGEIST by impersonating INSIDIOUS and woke up sleeping next to AMITYVILLE 3-D instead.

The movie is far from worthless, it has more than a couple creative set pieces floating around, I admire that they made attempts to ground some of the supernatural occurrences and I’m just the type of shipper to appreciate a HAPPINESS (1998) reunion between JARED HARRIS and JANE ADAMS…and yet…there is zero joy (SOLONDZ pun noted) in this movie, zero wonder, zero awe, zero reverence for the mysteries of life and zero of the carbonation that made the original POLTERGEIST sparkle and bubble. It’s like skunked POLTERGEIST. I wish I could completely dismiss it or set it on fire like one of those failed Ellen Ripley clones in ALIEN RESURRECTION that whisper “kill me” but I can’t help remaining curious to see when the DVD comes out if any of the deleted scenes (the director’s cut was something like 8 minutes longer) give it more of a mutated leg to stand on. In any case it wasn’t a total loss for me because after it was done I needed to cleanse my mental palette and so I went to see….

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD! Yay! I had to see this one in the movie a second time and I can’t wait to watch it again and again because it gave me the feeling that I used to get as a teen leaving the movie theater. It made me feel like anything was possible and that the sky was the limit and there was more to creating than just constantly churning out derivative content to fill space. It reminded me that I could still be amazed and inspired and practically possessed by a movie. Sorry to say but for me, horror movies mostly disappointed this summer (at least the ones that made it to my neck of the woods) and I honestly don’t feel much like covering for their shortcomings anymore. FURY ROAD and pretty much FURY ROAD alone is what kept my faith in (going to) the movies properly kindled.

Truth is, my most fulfilling experience with the horror genre this summer came via the television. One fifty-six minute episode of PENNY DREADFUL entitled “The Nightcomers” pretty much eclipsed every horror film I saw in the theater combined. It was beautiful, scary, thought provoking, tragic, heartening, it had a point of view, it pushed forward rather than pandered and it took full advantage of the potential of the genre rather than taking the easy way out at every turn. So no, my love of horror is far from dead and I’m a full believer in the cyclical nature of things. I know that the perfect time to have your mind blown is exactly when things are at their most stagnant and bromidic. By the pricking of my thumbs…

The End. Thanks for letting me gripe and clean out the gutters. We now return you to your regularly scheduled, far less crabby program.

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