Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Sinister (2012)

In trying the articulate my thoughts and feelings after watching Sinister, the best I can do is to equate it with my experience with Insidious.  I had been hearing inklings about how scary this was for months, while diligently awaiting the BluRay release and, as always, eschewing all trailers and reviews.  So when the Netflix-distributed disc finally arrived yesterday afternoon, I was thrown into a state of elated anticipation for the evening to come.  I thought, finally a movie that is supposed to be a nice classic scary horror movie.  But in the end, I walked away disappointed and wondering where all the praise is coming from.  Just like with my experience with Insidious, I feel like I missed something.

From what I remember of Insidious, the plot structure is similar: a family moves into a house with a harrowing history and a malevolent spirit begins attacking the child(ren), delivering scares via the parents.  I can say that the story is the strongest point of the movie.  There is a strong backstory, which eventually and creatively produces a nice little twist that strips away the safety of the most pragmatic decision I've ever seen a main character in a horror movie make (sorry to be so vague).  And everything concerning the malevolent spirit follows; that is, plot details aren't seemingly thrown together in hopes of producing a complex plot for the sake of winning the approval of audiences who decry horror movies as being shallow.

I think my disappointment came with the fact that Sinister repackages so many jump-scares and musical stings I've experienced before.  It's safe to say that my thrill receptors have already been blunted!  This is also what I found offputting about Insidious--though with Insidious, there were two out of the myriad scares that I loved.  To be more specific, I used to find ghost-children effective until around 2004's The Grudge.  Now it just makes the film unbelievable and silly.  And every single little scare had to be accompanied by an outrageously loud and grinding musical sting.  Like the makeup-plastered ghost-children, this damages the believability of the movie.  In real life, I wouldn't hear someone slamming their hands on piano keys during a scary situation!  And a lot of the scares are predictable: e.g. Ellison holding the picture up in front of his face while looking out the window--you know what's about to happen.  But, on the other hand, the found footage (literally, footage that the main character finds in the attic) was admittedly pretty creepy.  There is one scare that involves the "Yard Work" footage that really got me.  Though I think it would've been even creepier without the synthesized assistance.

In the end, I'm disappointed but not to the point of not liking the movie.  Of everything coming out recently, this is a strong release, especially for a mainstream release.  It just didn't have the scary factor that I'd been led to expect.  Then again, perhaps this just doesn't jibe with my tastes; I really find the subtle scares of Lovely Molly and Lake Mungo to be exceedingly more effective than the scares delivered in a movie like Sinister.  One thing is certain: I will be rewatching this at some point this year and giving it a reconsideration now that my expectations are properly set.

Rating: 3/5

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

House at the End of the Street (2012)

I was fully prepared for this to be tripe.  With its marketing and boasting of J Law, I was pretty sure this would fall in there with movies like The Possession: polished, safely PG-13, overproduced monotony.  But, lo, I found enough to like here to say that I quite enjoyed watching it.  No, I wouldn't watch it again by choice, but for the one shot that I did take with it, I have no regrets.

The plot is a bit unoriginal, despite what other reviewers are claiming (I've seen more than a few talk about throwing away what could have been an original idea).  One day we'll finally all agree that there are no original ideas; one can only hope for original depictions of known ideas.  But anyway, the last thing I should do is wax philosophical when I'm trying to quickly write up a below-average review of an average movie.  J Law and her mother move into a new house in a new town as a way to make a fresh start.  We begin to get the typical backstory and stressors as the plot unfolds: there were tensions between the mother and father; J Law is from the big city and misses her friends; the neighbors are weird; and, oh yeah, you guys live within sight of a house where a gruesome double-murder took place.  From there, we get some psychological twists that, on paper, would have worn out their welcome, but in execution I enjoyed.

Nothing worth reporting as far as cinematics or setting.  Pretty generic.

This is the first time I've ever experienced J Law.  I have not seen Hunger Games or that movie with Bradley Cooper.  My first impression was that she is very comfortable, casual, and she seemingly effortlessly succeeded at portraying her character without coming off as whiny and annoying.  This is the danger with the character setup we have in this movie.  The daughter character could easily be unlikable if she were to overplay the I'm-going-through-a-hard-time angle.  I realize this makes me sound insensitive, but this is a movie, after all, and it's how I feel.  I hardly ever empathize with characters on-screen; yet I empathize with characters all the time while reading.  In any case, there is great chemistry between J Law and Max Thieriot.  The mother, Elisabeth Shue, I did not care for, though I did enjoy her character in Piranha.

I seriously doubt this will end up on anyone's Best... list, unless it's some ironic list like Best Average Movies or Best Attempts at a Shock Ending, but it's still worth a watch all the same.  The ending doesn't obstreperously grope for a twist/shock/epiphany as desperately as Silent House, but it isn't just a dud either.  This is simply a movie that's worth a watch if you want to burn some time on a decent thriller.

Rating: 3/5

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Amber Alert (2012)

I had heard this was an utter flop, but I decided to give it a try anyway.  Usually I am pretty forgiving--especially when I already have low expectations--but I couldn't find anything to like here.  In fact, this may be the first film that has actually angered me (at one point I irritably asked the characters to shut up).  I've seen plenty of movies with characters that bicker and argue, but this one tops them all for its sheer annoyance.  I hate to completely write a movie off, because putting a feature together is hard work, but there is no need for this one to exist.

Rating: 0/5

Friday, February 1, 2013

Paranormal Activity 4 (2012)

Well, that was a rather disappointing evening--let's hope this is the end of the franchise.  While others complained that PA2 and PA3 were simply more of the same, I forgave the films and found something to love, be it a character or an interesting tie-in to the plot.  But, having recently rewatched the third installment, I now find myself very put out with the constant reuse of swinging chandeliers, falling objects, and bickering domestic partners (though this is part of the plot, as tension exacerbates the violence of the entity).  And as if I weren't already begging for the runtime to elapse, the end proved to me that the filmmakers weren't interested in taking the opportunity to add a fourth installment seriously.

Let me now join the ranks of others who focus on the silly logistical liberties that drive found-footage and mockumentary movies.  Usually I can overlook the usually thin reason behind the continuous filming (as opposed to the character or characters dropping the stupid camera, getting a grip on reality, and taking sensible action), but this one is all over the place, with the spliced-together footage taken across all manner of Apple devices.  I couldn't help but be reminded that this was a movie because of all the necessary editing.  And again, yes, this is something that happens all over the previous two installments, as our characters setup multiple cameras, but this time there were jump-cuts edited in for scare tactics that wore out their welcome and killed the charm established by the original Paranormal Activity.

Putting aside my disdain for all the trademark PA antics, I will say that I quite enjoyed the two main characters, Kathryn Newton as Alex, and Matt Shively as Ben.  Finally, some teenagers in a horror movie that I am pulling for instead of against.  In fact, I actually came to like and care for these characters, even if the movie didn't pull me into the realm of feeling a sense of the fear they felt.  The chemistry between Alex and Ben was spot-on; I liked the on-the-cusp-of-friend-zone dynamic that drove their interactions.  The parents, however, were completely dismissible.  I know they were supposed to remain aloof and distracted from the goings-on in the house by all their domestic tensions, but their distractedness felt too forced.  Stephen Dunham may well have been sleepwalking through the movie.

The backstory that drives the movie is revealed in such as way as to produce hardly any effect at all.  It's just like, Oh, and guess who this really is?  DUM-DUM-DUUUUMMM!  And the very last frame is not only a complete copy of one of the previous PAs; it is completely ridiculous to boot.  I've made it clear that there are no new scares brought to the table here, but in retrospect I realize that the main scare was centered around a certain character's appearance.  And, for me, it actually worked.  I felt a nice little chill travel my spine.  But, sadly, this and the dynamic between Alex and Ben are the only things of worth I was left with.  I don't think I've been this excited and then disappointed since Alexandre Aja's Piranha.

Rating: 2/5