Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014)

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014)

Sequels, prequels, alternative imaginings… they’re everywhere. When did straight-up sequels become so boring? We now need accompaniments and side-films to ‘bolster’ the original. We’re apparently hungry for them. This can sometimes lead to a bit of confusion with the cinema-going audience: when exactly is this film set? This should be less of an issue when a franchise follows the traditional numbering of 1, 2, 3 etc. You’d naturally expect 2 to follow on from 1, and so on and so forth. But no. There’s something spooky going on with Hollywood’s numbering system right now, primarily driven by the Paranormal Activity series. So with that being said, where does the fifth instalment, which drops the numbering, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, fit in?

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014)

This really is the question: where does it fit in? The Paranormal Activity franchise has been going for some years now. It began with a fresh take on the found footage format and introduced is to Micah (Micah Sloat) and Katie (Katie Featherston) – the latter of which was haunted / followed by a demon that would later possess her and send her on a killing rampage. Then, in Paranormal Activity 2 we got an immediate prequel about how Katie got the demon onto her, but also finished after the events of 1… in 3 we got an even deeper prequel to 1 and 2 of Katie and her sister being haunted as kids… in 4 we got a sequel to 2 (keeping up here?), which showed Katie and her stolen nephew. So, where does Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones go? And why bother with the change in numbering? For all intents and purposes this is Paranormal Activity 5, although that would then confuse things considering Paranormal Activity 5 will be released later in 2014…

Yes, it’s a confusing mess. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones was hinted at as a post-credits scene in Paranormal Activity 4. Apparently, this series of films is huge in the Hispanic community, so they decided to focus onto a Hispanic family living in southern California. The film follows Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) and his family after he wakes up with a bite on his arm. He develops all manner of seemingly supernatural powers and ends up being able to communicate with an entity that’s following him. Over the course of the film we follow Jesse’s corruption by the spirit. which changes him from the good time guy he used to be into something more… demonic.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014)

So, it’s semi-familiar territory here. We have our favourite invisible demonic force back again for the fifth time. Plus, we’ve ditched the fixed cameras and resorted back to the Blair Witch Project-esque handicams. Although this shakes up the Paranormal Activity format, it also loses one of its reasons for being charming: increasing audience familiarity with the surroundings. It’s this fact that had you surveying every scene like a detective to pick up on the slightest twitch of curtains or grunt and groan. Although this format has been somewhat worn out after four instalments, it’s a trademark of the series… which has been lost.

But what of the scares? Unfortunately, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones still relies on jump scares and loud noises. It still has that ominous sub-bass rumble to accompany the tense scenes (a marvellous trick to get you on edge), but the scares are all too forced / LOUD NOISES. That being said, it was nice to see a slight variation introduced into the scare cauldron. We actually see some demonic powers being used for the first time; it’s no longer just an invisible creature stomping around (although the powers are only seen through the possessed individuals). I’m almost hoping that at some point they reveal this demon. Although that’ll have the Jeepers Creepers effect (i.e., the creature ceases to be scary), it’s needed. After all, this series is going to have to end at some point isn’t it? Why not bring the demon out? Having said all that, I’d say Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones succeeds at scaring more than its immediate predecessor.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014)

Fans / followers of the franchise will ultimately be rewarded / disappointed though. As I mentioned at the outset, the series has chronology issues for sure. This film will just add to this confusion. Despite the rebranding, this isn’t a separate entity; it still fits into the existing set of events as some sort of bizarre prequel / sequel / accompaniment. That’s spoiling nothing, and keeps EVERY option open for you!), but it’s true!

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones isn’t the shot in the arm that the franchise has been calling out for recently. It seems like we’re constantly spinning in a demonic vacuum and not advancing the overarching plot all that much. There are scares there for the more nervous amongst us / those with hearing aids turned up too loud, but again the film fails to capture the magic of the original Paranormal Activity. Paranormal Activity 5 best advance things along with this Katie plot, or it can expect me to deliver an even more damning verdict…

But then again, Paranormal Activity may be another bloody prequel. The sequencing currently stands at 3, 2, Marked Ones, 1, 4… and I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t taught that bizarre numbering order when I was back in school. Let’s end this review in a similarly odd way: And that’s all I have to say about that really / Or I may unleash my own demonic rage / Something that truly reinvigorates the franchise again / Firstly, I’m hoping for something new and inventive.

Phage Factor:

2.5 Stars

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Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)

Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)

Nightmares and the realm of dreams. They’re not a new target for horror movies. Indeed, a certain burnt-faced man in a green and red striped jumper with a beknived hand got there a good few decades ago. But they’re still ripe for the picking, owing to the fact that we can’t control our dreams or where they take us. For the most part. Let me tell you a little story… You see, when I was a young Phage I used to suffer from extreme nightmares. Ones that would involve a car full of silhouettes pulling up outside my house and running at the building whilst Momma Phage slept upstairs. I would run downstairs and see them running and jumping in through the windows – they had no faces, no features, nothing. Just silhouettes. Similarly, I’d see images of beloved ones warping into demons and attacking me. These were relentless and they’d come again and again, night after night. That was until I learnt to lucid dream and control what happens. So I was able to talk to these demons and attackers. Once I did? No more of those nightmares. I cured myself of these insidious thoughts.

Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)

Whilst my advancing age has somewhat diminished my abilities to manipulate the dream, I can still become self-aware and know I’m in a dream. This has brought about a new type of nightmare… As now I’m in my head, but it’s completely dark. All I know is that I’m there with some malevolent force. Nowadays I find myself challenging myself in my head and trying to embrace this “thing” that I’m perceiving as evil. It sounds confusing right? You should try spending a night as The Phage! It’s an odd one! So… where am I going after this therapy-esque confession? Well, the original Insidious focused on evils that lurk in our dreams – dead spirits that want to come back… So, enter Insidious: Chapter 2, to pick up where the first film left off…

If you’re thinking about seeing Insidious: Chapter 2 and you’ve not seen the original? Well, you’re going to struggle. Pretty badly! This movie doesn’t make many apologies for this and plunges relentlessly into the plot. I’ve seen Insidious… and to be honest, I thought it was “good” but by no means this “great” horror that people laud it as. It had a nice premise, but lost all terror in the last third. Having said that, I do remember the plot. But having not watched it since its theatrical release, even I found myself straining to remember the closing 10 minutes of the original. I got there… but it wasn’t instant recall! Essentially, this film picks up immediately after the first – a little boy became trapped in dream world with some demons, his dad (Patrick Wilson) followed him into there to bring him home. But we’re not sure just what came out of that world, as an evil “old woman” was trying to get back to Wilson‘s body before he did… did she succeed? Well, Wilson did kill at the end of the first movie, so we’d presume so, right?

Oh, and if you’re wondering, I’d have given Insidious 3 Phages. Why? Too much reliance on my old enemy… LOUD NOISES!

Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)

And LOUD NOISES are very much in place in Insidious: Chapter 2 too. Not as many as there have been previously, but there’s certainly a reliance on them. Let’s be honest… there’s little in the way of true scares in this film. A couple of jumps, but that’s more due to clever framing, as opposed to genuine horror. No, The Conjuring this ain’t. I should mention we saw The Conjuring, but flew abroad straight away afterwards. Verdict? We really liked it – 4 Phages. Jeez, we’re writing reviews within reviews here aren’t we?!

I would however like to mention the humour. Insidious: Chapter 2 did have me smiling – for the right reasons. The comedic performances coming out of “paranormal investigators” Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) were brilliant. Truly, they were the highlight of the movie for me. The others? Well… they were there. Not bad, by any stretch of the imagination, but nothing too memorable.

Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)

As mentioned at the outset, I like the dream premise, but Insidious: Chapter 2 gets carried away with it and vaults back and forth between planes a lot. This, coupled with the unrelentingly forward-marching plot, makes for an uncomfortable viewing for the first time Insidious viewer… But even for the veterans, it all becomes a little dull. The jumps have been done before and the plot is quite linear. In the original the last 15 minutes disappointed me as they were anticlimactic, like the reveal in Jeepers Creepers. But here? I was just a little bored. And the hokey set-up for Insidious: Chapter 3? A little too much…

Insidious: Chapter 2 is pretty much on par with the original Insidious in my books… and I wasn’t bowled over with the original, like so many were. This sequel should be applauded for continuing the plot and being a true sequel, but it falls down in terms of horror and suspense. I enjoyed the movie more as a comedy than I did a horror thanks to the performances of Whannell and Sampson. But even that wasn’t enough to save the movie. It was passable… but certainly not remarkable.

Maybe I’m just not able to be scared by horror movies now, following my earlier confession about my somewhat bizarre nightmares that I concoct for myself nowadays. In fact, I’m pretty sure my dreams and nightmares are ripe for the picking, as they’re pretty warped and weird. Although I’m not sure how you convey the feeling of malevolent evil that I can sense once I’m in there. Maybe if we held the screening and announced that one audience member would be picked at random and subjected to the horror that is having to watch Adam Sandler‘s Jack & Jill on a loop for an entire weekend… that’d do it.

Phage Factor:

2.5 Stars

The Purge (2013)

The Purge (2013)

At Film Phage, we like it when a film has a lofty premise; something that at least attempts to distinguish it from the rest of the crowd. This is especially needed in the constantly stagnating “horror” genre. We’ve had found footage, gore-porn, LOUD NOISES and a host of other techniques attempt to make us squirm in our seats. But The Phage always stuggles… possibly because we have no emotions – we’re a cold, emotionless wretch destined to wander the Earth like some shambolic zombie-Phage. Or, it could be that no new “idea” has been that terrifying. Having said that, we do like a bit of sustained menace in our films… something to keep the tension up… so, is The Purge up to the task at hand? And just what do The Purge and The Phage have in common? Read on…

The Purge has a nice enough premise to it. By “nice”, I actually mean quite monstrous, but well thought up. Essentially, in the US of 2022, July 5th is Purge Day. Between 7pm and 7am, the residents of the US are free to commit any crime they like – murder, theft, mutilation… anything they like, and not be charged with a thing. It’s said that this is meant to “purge” people of their criminal urges and malicious intents. But don’t expect any help if you’re attacked; there’s no police, no ambulances and no assistance coming until 7am. The result? Super low unemployment and low crime rates. So, of course, the film is mainly set on the aforementioned night when it all kicks off…

The Purge (2013)

At its centre, we follow the Sandin family – clearly upper-middle class, successful and benefiting from the purge; mainly owing to James (Ethan Hawke), who sells the security systems that people come to rely on. So on lock down in 2022, it’s just him, his wife Mary (Lena Headey), and his two children Charlie (Max Burkholder) and Zoey (Adelaide Kane)… or so he thinks. But things certainly go awry when the young, morally conflicted Charlie sees a man pleading for help outside the shutters of the Sandin homestead. He decides to open the doors and let this stranger in… on a night when anything goes. Can the family remain so passive and not indulge in the orgy of violence that they’d ordinarily sit out of?

I genuinely like the concept. I think it’s got some lofty ambition and the social commentary runs through the entire film. What is the real reason for the purge: the release of hatred, or an excuse to kill the lower classes that can’t afford to lock themselves away? It’s an interesting question and I found myself enthralled by the developing tale… up until the end of the first act. After this point, it all became a little too… dull.

The Purge (2013)

The opening is strong, and I definitely bought into the premise, but once we get to the moment where the monumentally dumb Charlie lets a stranger into his house, the film started to fall apart a little. We have some mild tension creep in here, then the threat level is elevated somewhat when others come looking for the sheltered man, but the film never induces terror. I’d be hard-pushed to call it a “moderate level of threat” to be honest. If you want to see a similar film with ramped up tension, then check out the fabulous French horror film Them (or Ils, if you want to be all French about it). Want a British take on the grim face of terror? Then try Eden Lake. I’d even argue My Little Eye from years ago makes more of a go of it. But The Purge? I’d skip on by if you’re looking for any modicum of fear to be evoked.

The problems with the film are in no way due to the acting talents of Hawke and the always-reliable Headey, who definitely carry the film for the duration. Their performances are solid and do exactly what’s expected of them. As some will know, this isn’t Hawke‘s first foray into horror, following on from last year’s LOUD NOISES fest, Sinister. I’d argue that whilst The Purge is more grounded in reality (something that should elicit worry and anxiety from the audience), Sinister had more scares to it. And considering the scare quota of Sinister was about 4, you’re getting an idea of how “scary” this film is. Having said that, you can’t escape how genuinely creepy Rhys Wakefield is in his antagonist role… that smile below… it’s what you’ll take from this movie!

The Purge (2013)

Perhaps the main problem with The Purge is the fact that it bills itself as a horror movie. The studio took the wrong angle here. They’d have been better off playing it out as a thriller. That, or they should have jacked up the jump levels. Sure, I’m glad they didn’t resort to cheap loud noises, but they needed something there. A lofty plot and interesting premise can only carry a film for so long.

Ultimately, The Purge didn’t purge me of my desire to be scared. It still persists. The opening 30 minutes of the film are great, grizzly and thought-provoking, but after that we’re subjected to a rather timid example of “stalkers in a house” – something that has been done to death since… well, since forever. So whilst I must applaud James DeMonaco on writing an interesting idea, it’s a shame it wasn’t more fleshed out from beginning to end.

So, back to the opening… what do The Purge and The Phage have in common? Are we prone to violent outbursts? Do we peak too soon and get really boring the more you read on (don’t answer that!)? Or do we just share a smattering of letters in common? I’d like to think it’s just the last of these options… unless you steal a slice of our pizza… You don’t wanna make a Phage mad now…

Phage Factor:

3 Star

Dark Skies (2013)

Dark Skies (2013)

The truth is out there… Are you hearing that theme song in your head yet? Yes, The X-Files did wonders for getting the concept of aliens “out there” into the public domain. It triggered an unhealthy fascination in what’s up in the skies for a lot of people. The same people (mainly guys) also developed an unhealthy obsession with Gillian Anderson. Me? I’m just fascinated with how David Duchovny looks almost exactly the same now as he did back in 1992. Whatever alien gloop he’s using on his skin, I want some! Sure, aliens have taken many forms in the movies too – from the horrific “tongue-y” xenomorphs in the Alien franchise to the little guy who’s got a really long glowing finger and is obsessed with going home – but none are more famous than the “Greys”. You know the ones: really tall, long limbs, huge black eyes… oh, and they’re grey. Think Roger from American Dad! or any alien seen in South Park. Got it? Good. So how does Dark Skies, the latest alien horror movie, deal with the deities from the sky?

The Signs of Dark Skies are evident for all to see...

The Signs of Dark Skies are evident for all to see…

Well… have you seen Signs? You know, when M. Night Shyamalan was still delivering top notch movies that you really wanted to go out and see? If you’re with me, then lift that plot up and supplant it into Dark Skies and you’ve essentially got the premise. I know what you’re thinking if you’re a regular reader: “Hey, Phage, where’s the plot summary? I don’t like change – just do things like you normally do!”… but I’m honestly not kidding when I say that Signs and Dark Skies are almost exactly the same film. Replace the farm from Signs with a suburban neighbourhood, whip out Joaquin Phoenix and Mel Gibson and replace with Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton and you’re pretty much on the money.

OK, I’ll give you a summary lest I lose you forever into the void that is the internet: Dark Skies follows the lives of Daniel and Lacy Barrett and their two young boys. Sure, they’re going through financial troubles, but that’s the least of their worries when their youngest, Sam (Kadan Rockett) starts to act peculiarly and attributes his odd behaviour to the “Sandman”. But that’s only the beginning… as soon the whole family is engulfed in what can only be described as an “extraterrestrial” experience…

Dark Skies (2013)

I’m a bit surprised actually, as I’ve made the film sound wholly more exciting than it was. The crux of the problem with Dark Skies isn’t that it’s got a bit too much in common with Signs, but the fact that the pacing is entirely off. Especially for a “horror” movie. I know that I often lament the use of loud noises, camera jerks and cheap startling tactics, but they do at least add some (false) frights into a horror movie. Dark Skies lacks all of these for at least the first 3/4 of the movie. This would ordinarily cause me to commend the film. However, their absence actually exposes the critical weakness of the film: nothing’s happening. It’s not suspenseful – nothing’s happening.

We’re all accustomed to horror films ramping up the tension over their run time. This is especially true with the Paranormal Activity franchise; it’s their calling card. You know the scares are going to get bigger and more intense the longer the run time goes on. Hell, I can still see the ending of REC in my mind’s eye (now that was a horror film!)… that was a build-up punctuated with a ton of scares along the way. It seems that Dark Skies saved all of its material for the final quarter of the film. This wouldn’t be bad, if the final quarter wasn’t quite so poor too. You already know how it’s going to end.

Dark Skies (2013)

The trouble is that the film tries to shoehorn in too many ideas from other films. You have the obvious Signs similarities, then the use of surveillance footage (Paranormal Activity), night vision cameras (Paranormal Activity 2) and emotionally disturbed children (Poltergeist). What you’re left with is a product that isn’t equal to the sum of its parts.

All that being said, I admire the film-makers for being bold in attempting something a little different from the normal LOUD NOISES approach to horror movies; making it unfortunate that the plot is a bit too bare and basic. When I saw that it came “from the producer of Insidious, Sinister and Paranormal Activity“, I thought I knew what I was going to get (clue: NOISES), but I was mistaken. Turns out I wasn’t mistaken about the ending though…

Ultimately, I just failed to be scared or even feel absorbed by the plot of Dark Skies. Even the most “startling” of modern horror movies at least have me hooked into the plot to see how it’ll all play out, but this was stripped away by my overwhelming sense of déja-vu. Dark Skies isn’t for those with short-attention spans, but nor is it for those that want a pay-off in their films. If the skies are dark and forboding outside your house, don’t try venturing out to the cinema for Dark Skies. You’d have more fun re-watching The X-Files.

So back to the real question here… just how does David Duchovny do it? How does he still look as youthful as he did in the early 1990’s? Maybe it was the fact that he played a character obsessed with aliens? Perhaps he actually did encounter aliens and they gave him some magical youth formula… that’d make a lot of sense. Or maybe it’s just the well-documented fact that he was a sex addict for much of his life and he’s actually a vampire absorbing their youth as he goes. Now that’s a film idea! The truth IS out there.

Phage Factor:

1.5 Stars

Paranormal Activity 4 (2012)

Back in 2009, a movie came out that brought something new and refreshing to the “found footage” genre of horror movie made so popular by The Blair Witch Project a decade before. That film was Paranormal Activity. Like its snotty-faced muse, it was very low budget and had a certain simplicity to it. It relied on a single handicam being placed in a bedroom every night to capture what spooky shenanigans were occurring. Audiences loved it, so inevitably the sequel hit screens the following year. And in a pattern resembling Saw, we’re now seeing sequels summoned on a yearly basis to coincide with Halloween. But is Paranormal Activity 4 a devilish return to form, or is it just a pale apparition of what went before?

If you’ve been following the franchise thus far then this film returns back to the “regular” timeline set forth in Paranormal Activity and Paranormal Activity 2, but does draw on plotlines exposed in the prequel, Paranormal Activity 3. I know, I too wish they’d just called Paranormal Activity 3 “Paranormal Activity: Inception, or Origins, or The Summoning”… just something to make the chronology a little easier to comprehend! Regardless, it follows on from the massacre at the hands of Katie (Katie Featherston) in PA2. And guess what? She’s gone walkabout with Hunter and ended up in a new neighbourhood – a new neighbourhood that houses our lead, Alex (Kathryn Newton), and her family. Inevitably, spooky things start happening and the Paranormal Activity storyline is developed… very, very slowly… and not in an interesting new way.

He’s behind you…

The big “hook” this time is the use of modern technology to capture the activity, namely webcams and X-box Kinect’s detection system. I’ve got to say, it worked, but it wasn’t as effective as it could have been, and nowhere near as interesting as what went before. The main problem is that in previous instalments the cameras were positioned in such a way that you became very familiar with the room over time. The nature of a webcam mounted to a laptop is that it travels and moves a hell of a lot; thus breaking some of this continuity. Sure, some of these cameras are artificially “fixed” to capture the action, but it somewhat removed some of the tension by having them so mobile.

The next thing you’ve got to come to with a horror film is… the horror, the scares, the tension. And I’ve got to say that spare the last 3 minutes, the film is incredibly light on all of the former. The Paranormal Activity franchise has got a reputation as being a “slow burner” and one that gradually ramps up the tension, but this takes “slow burner” to an entirely new level. This is very slow. And the menace is somewhat removed by the silhouette outlined by the Kinect sensor’s projections. In previous films, you’ve come to use your imagination to conjure up what this demon looks like. Hell, in Paranormal Activity you saw those weird trotter / three-toed imprints in the talcum powder, and in Paranormal Activity 3 you had that snorting sound. I was imagining one hell of a demon. All of this is destroyed somewhat in PA4. You’ll see what I mean if you head out to see it.

This is an album cover by a death metal band called Crucifier (thanks Google). But THIS is how I saw Paranormal Activity’s demon. Or something close…

And how could I forget the return of my friend “LOUD NOISES!”. Yes, he’s back and with a vengeance this time around. The majority of the startlings are a result of the loud noises. I’m well aware that Paranormal Activity pioneered this approach, so I’m not expecting it to vanish, but a little more terror would have been appreciated. And god knows I rambled enough about this issue in my review of Sinister, which in retrospect was probably a better film than Paranormal Activity 4. In all aspects. The acting here isn’t bad, as Kathryn Newton is a very likeable lead and carries the film well, but its the shambolic writing that lets the film down so badly. I’m sick to death of the family never believing there’s a ghost until they’re crucified on a clothes line or suspended from the rafters by a dressing gown cord.

The Kinect effect. Not sure if Microsoft will feel a boom in their profits because of this though…

And the plot holes? My oh my are there plot holes! Although some would ruin the film, just ask yourself “who is Katie’s child?” – the one that she initially turns up with, because it sure as hell isn’t Hunter from Paranormal Activity 2. Who is he? Why does she have him? And just why the hell do they bother to record ghostly happenings if they never check the bloody tapes!? I’m half-expecting the already-commissioned Paranormal Activity 5 to deal with the unknown child to be honest. And inevitably I’ll be going to the cinema to see what they’ve cooked up this time. Hopefully something a little more refreshing and interesting…

Paranormal Activity 4 isn’t a bad movie, but it’s not even in the same league as the original. Many of the scares have been removed and the pre-requisite for imagination has been checked at the cloakroom. It was the fear of not knowing what the demon looked like that made it interesting for me. The addition of a witches’ covenant in Paranormal Activity 3 caught me a little off-guard, and was unwelcome in my eyes, but it added a bit of depth to the saga. This instalment does little to develop the plot.

Ultimately, this film’s developments are tantamount to finding out that the horrible black silhouette of a goblin lurking in the corner of your room is in fact a pile of clothes. It removes the fear and intrigue. Maybe I missed the point of the “silhouette” cast by the demon here, but the film certainly didn’t develop this image I have in my head. I certainly won’t be calling the Ghostbusters. Especially if Bill Murray isn’t coming to crack some jokes. Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters 2 – now THEY were scary movies! I’ve never looked at a fridge or bathtub the same since. Probably why I’m malnourished and odorous.

Phage Factor:

Sinister (2012)

I’ll be the first to admit I’ve never been a fan of Anchorman and all of its sayings that some fans will spit back at you ad-verbatim like it’s still a fresh and exciting movie, and not something that’s now eight years old. But one quote, or scene, does stick with me – and that’s the one in which Steve Carell‘s character just exclaims “LOUD NOISES!” as his contribution to an argument. It was funny. It was apt. So why am I bringing this up in a review that’s not for The Campaign? Well, because I don’t think there’s any other phrase, spare “LOUD NOISES!” that really sums up horror movies of the past five years. Does Sinister follow this well trod path, or is it something altogether more… sinister?

The set up for the film is that true crime author Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) moves his family to a new town so that he can write his new book about some grizzly murders that happened there: a quadruple hanging. Of course, Ellison decides to move the family into the exact house where the hangings happened (unbeknown to his family) so that he can draw inspiration from the surroundings and maybe uncover a thing or two about the unsolved murders. But Ellison uncovers a box of film in the attic that explicitly details a series of brutal murders all featuring a rather evil looking presence. Obviously, I can’t divulge much more, but that’s the premise. But is it any good?

Well, it’s a mixed bag. I also can’t help but feel that Sinister and Insidious have more in common than a single word title. Let me make this clear: I thought Insidious was an OK horror movie that had a solid narrative… for the first 2/3 of the film. That last act was appalling and looked like it was shot in a high school drama class. Honestly – the “make up” on the “big bad red faced demon” was abysmal. That whole ending left a sour taste in my mouth. But the main problem with Insidious and Sinister is their reliance on the aforementioned LOUD NOISES! The films rarely employ true terror or fear. The vast majority of the jumps come from cheap amplified noises. This isn’t horror. This is just making people jump. I could pop a balloon behind you right now and you’d jump. It’s not horror or terror – it’s surprise. This is why I can’t really say that Sinister distinguishes itself from the pack. It’s more of the same.

Ethan Hawke is fantastic here… even if he does look like Johnny “Drama” Chase…

I will however say that the plot, whilst supernatural and a little forced, works well. I enjoyed the general premise of the film as a whole and I really must commend Ethan Hawke here. He seamlessly holds the film together and really slogs it out on-screen. It’s refreshing to have a horror movie that’s genuinely well acted by its lead protagonist. One thing I’ve got to mention though… since when did Johnny “Drama” Chase from HBO’s Entourage (RIP) start acting in films? In the trailers I swore that Ethan Hawke was Kevin Dillon – they look almost identical. I was half expecting to see Turtle and E run on-screen and make the film into a total Bromance (yes, I loved Entourage, and can’t let go of it). But getting back on track: Hawke is brilliant. That’s not to say the rest of the cast are slouches, but they never stood out in the same way. James Ransone‘s Deputy was the comic relief and Juliet Rylance ably portrayed Hawke‘s wife, Tracy, but the children? Eh… less noteworthy. They’re no Pierce Gagnon, that’s for sure. Can’t we cast him in all films from now on? And cast Tom Hardy in there too? I’d pay.

If you shhh it makes the LOUD NOISES even LOUDER!!

Whilst I wouldn’t say I was disappointed by Sinister, I almost knew what I was going to get from the outset. As soon as I see all of these “terrifying”, “you won’t sleep at night” and “best horror of the decade” quotes I’m immediately suspicious. Especially when they come from small-time horror film sites about as big as Film Phage – hey, it’s true, we’re small time  here (for now…). I just feel that either the standards for horror are slipping, or that people have forgotten what it’s like to be truly terrified by a film. Maybe I’m just hard to scare in that regard, but I didn’t feel tense or have an feeling of horror for the entire runtime. It was just interesting. I still say that nothing has come close to capturing the nuanced horror of Rec or even The Ring upon first viewing in a darkened cinema. There’s just too much emphasis on cheap jumps as opposed to psychologically terrifying someone. Although it’s lambasted, you’ve got to credit the original Paranormal Activity for at least trying this and making people doubt their own eyesight. A clever innovation. A clever innovation that will not be found in Sinister, despite Hawke‘s best efforts.

The only thing truly sinister about Sinister is how they managed to amass so many positive quotes from fellow critics that made the film seem the equivalent of a live-action ritual sacrifice with demons emerging from the lacerated corpse. Instead what we have is a film with a solid plot and a dodgy sound system that spikes way too often.

I’ll say one thing: Sinister beats out The Possession as best horror film I’ve seen in the past few weeks, but considering that’s its only competition that’s not saying much. With only Paranormal Activity 4 and perhaps Silent Hill: Revelations still to go, it could be another very unscary Halloween. LOUD NOISES!!!

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