In-Depth Movie Reviews & High Quality Trailers

Posts tagged “children

Sinister (2012)

I rarely go see horror films theatrically because, mostly, today’s horror genre just hasn’t been my style.  The few times I go, it’s usually a general letdown.  However, the trailers for Sinister were effectively suspenseful and scary to where I had to work up some courage to see it.  And now, after having seen it, yeah, I wasn’t courageous enough for it.  This is a damn good horror movie, one of the scariest I’ve ever seen.

Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) is a true crime novelist who has moved his family into the house where a grisly family murder once took place.  He hides this fact from his wife and two children, but the locals know the home’s history, especially law enforcement.  The town’s Sheriff (Fred Dalton Thompson) even attempts to convince Ellison to pack his things up and leave right away, but he is not deterred as writing this book maybe the one big paycheck he needs to get his family back on their feet, again.  When Ellison discovers a box of mysterious, disturbing home movies depicting a series of family murders dating back to the 1960s, he believes they are all connected to the one he intends to write about.  However, what he doesn’t realize is that he has just plunged his family into a nightmarish experience of supernatural horror.  The evil that claimed the lives of these families is now threatening them.

I just have to start out with the fact that this film choked me up with tension and suspense so much, my heart was damn near pounding out my chest.  Even as the end credits rolled, I needed a few minutes to calm back down before standing up and leaving.  Sinister delivers on scary.  Usually, I view the word “scary” as a lightweight term, but here, I want to give it a full heavyweight treatment.  The film has a methodical pace.  It sets up the creepy atmosphere from the very first shot, and it sent chills up and down me, as much of the film did.  I like that it slowly eases the audience into a supernatural ideal.  Ellison is repeatedly skulking through the darkness of his new house at increasingly louder and more overt noises.  While it got to being that I just wanted him to flick on a light switch, as most anyone would do in near pitch black chasing weird sounds around the house, the sequences are just hair raising suspense at its finest.  These sequences gradually build upon one another until the supernatural element is impossible to deny, and becomes far more intimidating as they occur.  The biggest chill probably hits when Ellison is tracking the creeks around the house, and what he can’t see are the ghosts that are stalking him everywhere he goes.  Even the few false scares serve a purpose for the characters, and overall, every scare is sharply effective.  Sinister scared the hell out of me.  No other film has done that since The Strangers.

The story is smartly crafted setting up Ellison Oswalt’s situation hiding the truth of the house from his wife, his own struggles with whether he’s doing this for the financial security of his family, or just to bask in the spotlight, again.  There are nice moments where Ellison is watching old TV interviews from when he clearly had a more optimistic and altruistic attitude.  His younger self talks about how he writes these books for the sense of justice instead of money, and it shows just how desperate Ellison’s point of view has changed.  The decline his career has taken forces him to do something far more deceitful and amoral by moving his family into the house of a murdered family, and hiding that from them.  It puts more stress upon him, and eventually, coupled with the strain these snuff films put on him, he begins to drink quite frequently.  It pushes the inner turmoil to the surface, and further enhances the outer conflicts of the film.  Everyone can see there’s something troubling him beneath the surface, but he’s so hesitant to speak of it for fear that it will ruin his efforts with this book.  He might be selfish in that regard, but he’s not without conscience.

As Ellison views these Super 8mm films, we are right there with him feeling the gruesome, unspeakable horror that he is witnessing.  He is clearly disturbed by these films, and you can see the recoils and reluctance he has in sitting through them just for the sake of his book.  Beyond just seeing them, there’s the knowledge that every frame of film was shot by the murderer.  The killer wanted someone to see these as a foretelling omen of what will happen to them, and ultimately, the plot works this into the supernatural elements smartly and perfectly.  Ellison’s investigation is very smart as he uncovers more and more clues, revealing more detailed evidence as he digs deeper.  The film keeps the mystery alive all the time, and sucks you into it every step of the way.  As more is discovered, the more frightening everything becomes, and the danger increases with every passing night for the Oswalts.  The addition that their son Trevor has had night terrors for most of his life, and that it is acting up more than ever just builds upon the unsettling nature of the house, and the evil that is haunting and stalking them.  Of course, since Ellison is intent on keeping the truth of the house a secret for as long as possible, he refrains from taking more rational action to keep the family safe.  I also like that, early on, he has the impulse to call the police after watching the films, but backs away from it thinking about the best seller book he needs to write.  If he hands everything over to the cops, his book is inevitably done for, and he shies away from pursuing that course.  These actions never made him unlikable in my view as he is trying to do something that will financially put his family at ease, but eventually, he’s gone too far down this ill path for the police to realistically do anything.

Ethan Hawke really is damn good as Ellison Oswalt.  He’s in essentially every single scene, and gives a lot of dimension and relatability to the character.  Ellison is a caring father to both his kids showing deep concern for their well being, and always thinking about them, most of the time.  When it comes to his wife Tracy, portrayed strongly by Juliet Rylance, there is definite conflict.  She worries about his well being, fearing that he will become an emotional wreck, and fall down an ill path they’re both familiar with.  He tries to reassure her, and keep her away from the disturbing truth.  However, when the truth eventually gets out, the confrontational scene between them is immensely realistic.  The argument has a few bits of levity as Ellison spouts out pithy excuses for putting them into this situation, but ultimately, it’s a very emotionally visceral scene.  Hawke conveys the fear, turmoil, and horror of the character with powerful realism, and carries this film greatly, without a doubt.  It’s just an exceptional performance all the way through maintaining the humanity of the character, and Hawke keeps the tension and terror alive through his performance.

Juliet Rylance holds up equally well.  While she doesn’t get much chance to encounter the fear and horror of the film, she is a solid actress who has excellent chemistry with Ethan Hawke.  They both bring realistic depth to the history of their marriage, and the emotions that she puts in the role couldn’t be stronger.  Both child actors, Michael Hall D’Addario and Clare Foley, do an amazing and commendable job.  Every single performance in this film is very sternly rooted in reality, and both Michael and Clare bring likeability and a strong dramatic foundation to their characters.  As a whole, this family feels solidly cohesive and real with their own sets of unique problems and personalities.  It’s excellent casting and stellar acting through and through.

Fred Dalton Thompson’s always impressed me with his authoritative presence, and he brings some of that with a dash of genuine fairness that a Sheriff should have.  He only has two scenes, but he makes a solid impression on an audience.  He tells Ellison that he’s not much of a fan of his books, and doesn’t appreciate the criticism and ill attention he brings with him.  Yet, he proves his fairness in his second scene with a concern for the Oswalt family’s safety.

I also want to acknowledge the performance of James Ransome as the local Deputy.  What starts out as an awkward and somewhat star struck character becomes a guy you can take more seriously with a show of intelligence.  Being a fan of Ellison’s work, the Deputy offers to assist him with some research, and as he does, he becomes more wrapped up in the gruesome reality of these murders.  He notices the patterns of the crimes, and shows his worth as a capable police officer.  Ransome offers up a fine balance of low key charm and heart with an honest seriousness.  He becomes concerned for Ellison when things start to become more stressful and disturbing for him, and gives him some sound advice while never disputing the validity of anything Ellison has recently experienced.  It’s a surprising highlight of this film, and getting those few moments of perfectly pitched levity are very welcomed.

Beyond just the dark scenes at night, this is a visually dark film all the way around.  I’m not sure of why even the daytime scenes are masked in heavy shadow and even silhouettes, but it sure adds to the slightly claustrophobic atmosphere of the film.  Nearly all of the film takes place in that house, and it hardly ever feels warm or inviting.  Every scene is given just enough light for the purposes of that scene, but does lack a natural quality since almost none of the indoor lights are ever used.  When it gets very dark, it’s only highlights to make out a face, a figure, or a doorway.  It’s highly effective, but again, it is a little bothersome that Ellison Oswalt never does just switch on a light to see what’s going on.  At least one scene has the power go out entirely, and he has to navigate via his cell phone flashlight.  Overall, it is an amazingly well shot film with just the right compositions and framing to service the various moods and tension.  The editing is damn good as well allowing shots to linger in order to build up that choked up suspense waiting for the next chilling moment to unfurl itself upon your senses.

All throughout the movie, the score was shockingly powerful and effective.  When I saw the end credits, I knew why the score so fucking good.  It was done by Christopher Young.  This is the man who created the powerful and iconic scores for the first two Hellraiser movies.  For Sinister, he cranks up the nail biting, skin crawling, electrifyingly suspenseful music higher than ever before.  The tension gets so thick because of his prominent and intense score.  This is a masterwork of horror soundtracks that enhances every moment exponentially by its presence.  While a few of the clicks and clacks in certain scenes were a bit distracting, overall, this is nerve racking brilliance.  It’s especially effective over the Super 8 film clips which have no sound of their own.  So, it’s just the gritty visuals with this verbose score playing over them, and it just couldn’t be anymore heart pounding than it was.

This really is a horror film that treats its audience with maturity and intelligence.  The investigation aspect doesn’t have Ethan Hawke explaining every little detail to you.  It trusts in your attention to detail and intellect to put the pieces together.  Thus, it never gets redundant.  It keeps moving forward, and gives you enough information to keep you in sync with Ellison Oswalt.  You process things as he does, and the pace of the film allows you to do so.  Vincent D’Onofrio uniquely portrays Professor Jonas, a local expert on occult crime at the local university, and he is able to shed light on the occult symbols Ellison discovers in the film footage.  He explains what they all mean, and possibly what supernatural entity is stalking his family and is responsible for all these murders.  This aspect of the film is very smartly conceived and executed.  It’s another part of that gradual building of the supernatural elements.  You’re not bludgeoned with them from the start.  They subversively creep into the film until it saturates it completely.  It’s beautiful work that not enough horror filmmakers strive for these days.  There’s practically no gore, but plenty of graphic imagery to have you recoiling in terror.

Sinister is frightening to no end hitting you with shocking imagery and chilling sequences that are still sending a shiver over me as I type this.  The very last shot of the film is a very unnecessary jump scare, and I imagine it was just the filmmakers wanting to get that extra punch in at the end.  Still, that could’ve been done with a strong music cue, but I won’t fault the film over that cheap bit.  In a horror film so well crafted, I can afford them that much.  I am quite surprised that this was directed by Scott Derrickson who, a long time ago, directed the direct-to-video failure that was Hellraiser: Inferno.  Oddly, I caught a few minutes of it on cable the night before seeing Sinister.  It’s a gigantic leap forward in talent and skill that I couldn’t admire more.  Derrickson also co-wrote the Sinister screenplay with Christopher Robert Cargill, who is actually a movie critic.  So, it’s quite pleasing to see this sort of combination work so successfully.  Simply said, this is one of the best horror films I’ve seen in a long time, and I strongly encourage you to go see it!  I don’t think you could at all be disappointed in it.  It’s likely to scare you right out of your skin.

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The Monster Squad (1987)

You know, the video rental store was a glorious thing growing up in the 1980s and 90s.  It was better than any other place around.  Especially in the 80s, I believe I discovered more great films from VHS rentals and cable television than actually going to the theatre.  While the vast majority of my horror movie fandom was sparked off in the late 90s, I’ve been a fan of The Monster Squad since it came to home video.  It was always a rare treat either renting it or finding it airing on television some afternoon.  This was a greatly fun and frightening movie.

In the late nineteenth century, legendary vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing (Jack Gwillim) led a siege upon the castle of Count Dracula (Duncan Regehr) with an amulet of concentrated good in an attempt to cast all monsters into Limbo.  They blew it.  One hundred years later, his diary comes into the possession of Sean Crenshaw (Andre Gower) who leads a group of pre-teens who idolize classic movie monsters.  They call themselves The Monster Squad.  Sean and his friends workup the courage to visit the “Scary German Guy” (Leonardo Cimino), who turns out to be a kindly gentleman, to translate the German text in Van Helsing’s diary.  They learn of the amulet and its power, and that they only have a few days before it becomes vulnerable to destruction.  However, danger approaches as Dracula reawakens joined by the Wolfman, the Mummy, the Gill-Man, and Frankenstein’s Monster to help the Count take control of the amulet and plunge the world into darkness.  Now, the Monster Squad are the only ones who can stand in his way, and save the world from his impending reign of evil.

I find it immensely pleasing that Fred Dekker, director and co-writer, created a film that fully delivers on high quality horror while still incorporating adventurous fun.  There is such a deep, rich respect for these icons of classic horror that it shows through in every frame of film.  The entire film is given fine dramatic integrity.  Nothing is ever farcical.  It follows in the style of a film like The Goonies which has very fleshed out, dimensional, and relatable young characters put into very dangerous and exciting scenarios.  There’s a fine balance between the serious story and the charming fun.  The characters nor actors ever treat their situation as ridiculous.  They hold up the dramatic weight of the story very well.  The film never descends into cheap silliness like I imagine a modern remake would.  It sets everything up as a very honest threat that our heroes take with earnestness, but the film is still able to inject smart humor at just the right moments.  It is a brilliant mix and balance that is not easy to pull off.

The entire child cast is absolutely excellent.  André Gower leads the group with a lot of conviction and emotional determination.  He naturally fits the role of a confident, inspiring leader as Sean.  I love that Sean feels he has sort of inherited the mantle of Abraham Van Helsing.  He is inspired by Van Helsing’s journal, and wants to fulfill that failed mission.  Ryan Lambert does a great job as Rudy, the older, tougher, cooler kid of the group.  His leather jacket rebel style attitude adds a nice sense of edginess and credibility to the team.  Rudy’s also given a fine action hero moment when he starts slinging arrows in the climax.  You’ve also got to love how Horace is used in the film paying off some smart and hilarious jokes.  He’s the one that gets picked on at school, but ultimately, gets his hard edged action hero moment by the end.  This entire youthful cast is as solid as it gets.  They endear themselves to an audience, and all have their own qualities that make them distinct amongst the group.  They all bring something fun and unique to the cast’s dynamics.

Stephen Macht and Mary Ellen Trainor turn in very solid and well-rounded performances as Sean & Pheobe’s parents.  While the strained marriage aspect wasn’t all that necessary, it added to the emotional dimension of these characters, and it resonated well where it needed to.  The relationship between Sean and his father is very strongly handled with subtle moments that go a long way.  Macht and Gower have a very heartfelt bond that penetrates the screen, and builds a depth with Sean that an audience can connect with.  It surely solidifies Sean’s stature as the lead protagonist.

The film’s Dracula is brilliantly portrayed by Duncan Regehr.  His is seriously one of my favorite interpretations of Count Dracula.  He has such an intimidating and theatrical presence which saturates the screen.  The cold blooded, violent aspects of his performance are very chilling.  He has absolutely no hesitation to kill, and you never doubt how genuinely threatening or dangerous he is.  However, he can also demonstrate a passionate desire at times when on the hunt.  The film doesn’t give him a lot of scenes to establish much character, but you can feel this is a fleshed out villain from this rich performance alone.  I have seen Regehr in a few other roles, and he has brought this same level of passion to them as well.  As Dracula, he never ceases to be terrifying and compelling. He is an immensely strong lead villain that I think should never be forgotten in the annals of great Dracula portrayals.

I know the amazing talent of Tom Noonan from Manhunter, and as Frankenstein’s Monster, he continues to amaze.  The touching, tragic humanity he pours into this role is heartbreaking.  He can truly capture an audience’s heart as he does with the Monster Squad kids themselves.  Noonan deserves special recognition for his work here.  I also love the portrayal of the Wolfman by Jonathan Gries.  He’s a guy frightened to death of what the full moon turns him into so much he goes crazy on the police to force them to lock him up.  However, as the wolf, he is Dracula’s willing ally who is entirely ferocious and terrifying.  The transformation effects from man into werewolf are some of the best ever committed to film.  You definitely get the sense of a violent metamorphosis into this vicious beast, and that is no surprise consider the brilliance behind these effects.

All of the monsters are magnificently brought to life by Stan Winston Studios.  In the same year he brought us the iconic Predator, Winston brings that same level of realistic, textured detail to the Wolfman, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Mummy, and the Gill-Man.  There are even impressive moments of seeing Dracula in mid-bat transformation.  This is a benchmark of quality realizing these classic icons of horror with stellar modern practical effects work, and giving them a very tangible and textured quality.  Stan created the absolute highest standards for creature effects that continue to be shining standard bearers to this day, and likely for all cinematic time.  It’s tragic to see a movie like Van Helsing, which contained many of the same classic horror monsters and had more than ten times the budget of The Monster Squad, indulged in horrendous looking computer generated effects.  It goes to show that a bigger budget doesn’t always equal a technically superior film.  Talent is what counts, and Stan Winston clearly provided that and injected a vast amount of quality with these iconic movie monsters.  He did them justice, and paid great respect to their legacies, as did Fred Dekker.

Considering all the amazing known talents behind this film, it’s no surprise how damn good it is.  Fred Dekker co-wrote the screenplay with the excellent Shane Black who has written Lethal Weapon, Lethal Weapon 2, The Last Boy Scout, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (which he also directed).  The film was also executive produced by Peter Hyams, a great director and amazing cinematographer on films such as 2010, Running Scared, Timecop, Sudden Death, and End of Days.  It’s just enough talent to keep the quality at a high level in every aspect of the film.  The Monster Squad is genuinely very frightening because of that talent and quality standards.  Plenty of imposing atmosphere with beautiful cinematography that showcases integrity and great production values make for a highly effective and fun horror movie.  This might’ve only had an estimated budget of $12 million, but it sure doesn’t look like it.  This looks big budget all the way.

If there’s any negative mark to leverage against the film it would be the brisk 82 minute runtime.  The positive side of that is it moves at a very consistent, steady pace.  There are no lulls in the film.  It just keeps rolling forward, and flows exceptionally well.  Still, that 82 minutes hits you pretty hard making you wish there was a little more going on in that second act because you’re into the third act of the movie before you know it.  As I said, not much time is devoted to developing Dracula, and that’s certainly one area where they could’ve added in more content.  They quickly touch on an existing strong friendship between him and Frankenstein’s Monster, and that’s something which would’ve been interesting to see developed so to create more of an arc for Frank.  See him go from this brutish pawn of the villain to an ally of the heroes would be ripe for an extended setup and pay-off.

The Monster Squad seems to be a cult classic movie, and it’s sad and surprising that something of such high quality and solid entertainment value bombed hard at the box office.  Considering it opened two weeks after the vastly successful and more broadly appealing The Lost Boys, one could see it not having as much impact at the box office as Tri Star Pictures likely desired.  Still, making less than $4 million at the domestic box office is very harsh even for 1987’s standards.  Thankfully, time has been kind to this film, and it eventually got the treatment it deserved on DVD and Blu ray with a features loaded two-disc set that would satisfy any fan.  If you’ve never seen this movie, I give it an extremely solid recommendation.  You get a fine dose of adventure and fun with some solid, serious horror elements.  It is a PG-13 rated movie, but that is only because it lacks any serious gore or pervasive language.  It has plenty of suspense and unsettling moments that are greatly handled to where the rating is inconsequential.  It’s an exceptionally fun ride that shows deep respect to the icons of horror it showcases.