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As a film which was thoroughly marketed as the successor to Insidious (despite the sequel which is due out next year) there was only ever going to be one question: is it as good?
Well, despite the frequent rants which, quite frankly, form the greater part of the content of this blog, you may be surprised to learn that when it comes to horror films, I am actually quite easy to please. Yes, really. Good acting, decent writing, an engaging concept and a smattering of suspense is all I ask.
You get gold stars for real horror, tension, great characters, humour, dedication and originality in concept & design. And as far as I’m concerned, both Insidious and Sinister ticked a number of these boxes.
Sinister starts with a pretty familiar concept: family move into a house where the last family were murdered. But in the true tradition of excellent horror movies (yes I said excellent) things aren’t quite as familiar as they seem. The father of the family (Ethan Hawke) is a writer who discovers a collection of films in the attic which turn out to be graphic recordings of the murders of various families – including the previous occupants of the house. Solving the mystery and writing a new crime novel becomes Ethan’s obsession.
So then, Sinister is a genuinely chilling tale about a haunted video tape. Sound familiar? Well, it does have a few things in common with Ringu – most notably the disturbing visuals and unsettling soundtrack to the videos themselves. There’s something about producing visual horror which looks like a deranged film student’s end of year project which really works for me. It’s psychological guys! The inside of a stranger’s mind – or even your own – is a really disturbing place (especially if you are me). But when these videos are produced by something supernatural – something other – they become truly unsettling.
Add to that some reasonably sophisticated scares (the face in the pool, the face on the computer and the lawn mower sequence) and some enjoyable cheap scares (face in the bush, demon face to camera, ghostly brats) and a reasonably original (if slightly convoluted) concept and you have a very solid horror movie.
BUT – to answer the inevitable question that we feel bound, nay, provoked to ask – is Sinister as good as Insidious? Well, to answer that question let me introduce a tactic as old and as hackneyed as a close up of a screaming woman in a horror promo:
Lipstick Face (Red Face Demon, Insidious)
Bughuul (Bagul, Baghul, Sinister)
Number 1: The Names
For starters I just want to point out that NO ONE and I mean NO ONE uses the correct names for these two demons. Why? Well basically it’s because they are totally gay. One sounds like Bagel and the other sounds like what happens after your elderly aunt gets hold of you at Christmas. Neither of them are getting any points.
Lipstick Face 0 / Bughuul 0
Number 2: The look
You can bitch all you want to, but Red Face still gives me the chills, where as Bagel Head has a nice look – but not one that threatens an outbreak of yellow stuff in the pants department. For all you heathens that think Red Face looks like Darth Maul, well, there are lots of scary things that look slightly like something that isn’t scary but still retain their scariness. FOR instance:
Lipstick Face 1 / Bughuul 0
Number 3: Mythos
Hmm…this is a tough one to call. Bughuul plays the old ‘Mesopotamian God’ card, which frankly was old news when it turned up in Ghost Busters. And we saw something similar in Posession. But a demon who gets kids to kill people is, I guess, pretty original. But Lipstick Face is really weird, I mean, he listens to kitsch music on a record player while he sharpens his claws. He’s a demon who finds a way into the living world by praying on the empty bodies of those capable of astral projection. Very Lovecraftian.
Lipstick Face 2 / Bughuul 0
Number 4: Level of Eeeevil
Ok, hands down winner here is Bughuul, while Lipstick Face might be a really nasty piece of work who chills me to the bone – he really only picks on one member of one family. Who knows what might happen if he actually came through to our world – and maybe after the sequel I will revise this. But as it stands, getting cute kiddies to horribly murder their own families really is nasty.
Lipstick Face 2 / Bughuul 1
Number 5: How scary?
And finally. Who is overall the scariest? It’s a no brainer for me I’m afraid. Bughuul might be nasty and evil and all, but the sound of those talons, he shadow on the wall….the leering red face. The points have to go to Lipstick face.
Lipstick Face 3 / Bughuul 1
At the end of my review of Insidious I wrote:
“And I still say for all its faults – it is the best horror movie of 2011. But the writer/director of Saw and the producers of Paranormal Activity, had a hell of a lot to make up for. They’ve gone some way with this. Please, keep going.”
And they have. The differences between Insidious and Sinister really comes down to a difference in taste. I prefer Insidious because, although the 2 stories have a lot of similarities and follow the familiar haunted house/young family formula, Insidious takes much bigger risks. For me, these risks are at times successful and at others, hilarious blunders. For all that, Insidious still has an all pervading sense of menace that is highly effective.
As for carrying the Insidious torch – this was a good effort. And yes you have established a nice formula – but please – do not turn into a one trick pony.