An open letter to producers of mainstream horror (particularly you, Blumhouse).
Just… Stop. Enough is enough, okay? At first it seemed excusable, but we’re beyond that now. For too long multiplexes have been handed the most derivative material. Creepy kids. Dour ghosts. That’ll-do lead performances from pretty nobodies we’ll never see again. Inexplicable motives and character responses. Ridiculously convoluted mythologies tangled in knots to perpetuate franchises nobody cares about. Middle class homes where nobody turns the lights on. And more criminal than any of these? The cheap hokum of the jump scare. It doesn’t make up for a lack of suspense or emotional investment. And above all it doesn’t excuse the quiet-loud quiet-loud drunken hammering on the soundtrack. Not every horror movie needs to sound like a Pixies song being re-imagined by a string quartet. Simmer the fuck down.
Because, by this point, not even the casual movie goers are interested in this schtick now. Cinemas are sparsely populated. And nobody who goes is expecting to be surprised. Hell, people talk through these pictures more than any other. Or text. Or rearrange their shopping. They’re just passing the time. Hope has dwindled. Quite where the box office figures to sustain these moribund creations is coming from is beyond me.
And if the general public are nonplussed, you can bet horror fans are more-so. Those invested in the genre know that a little digging yields far more fruitful, creative results from the independent scene, which bursts at the seams year-on-year with exciting or at least intriguing variations on your by-the-book offerings. Just this year we’ve seen the release of It Follows and Spring; two of the very best horror films the past decade has seen. The calendar is frequently pitted with these little gems. Starry Eyes; there’s another. Even the ones that don’t quite round themselves out successfully at least attempt to approach their material boldly (see recently A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night). So when those of us who give a damn are confronted with your pallid variations on the same old stories, there’s really no other response than a long exhale. Another weary sigh.
The newly released Sinister 2 is a case in point. Now Sinister was fairly poor to begin with. Ethan Hawke stumbled around his middle class home in the perpetual dark for no reason (there was nothing to suggest his light fittings weren’t working), getting spooked by faux-snuff films designed to shock (that didn’t) and getting danced at by preposterous ghostly children. Presumably he was simply lost, trying to work his way back to the set of the equally who-gives-a-fuck The Purge.
Before you counter that I had therefore obviously made up my mind before even seeing this one, I’ll give you credit where it’s due. I rewatched Sinister at home recently, and it’s effect improved markedly. Perhaps it was the domestic setting adding a degree of mise en scene to proceedings? Perhaps I just wasn’t being distracted by teenagers calling their parents half the time? But regardless we’re talking in relative terms here. Overall the frustrations still outweighed the good. I’ll not go back. But seeing it again did give me enough misplaced optimism to see where you might go with it next…
I mean, sequels that are better than the original aren’t unheard of, right? …right? And horror’s kind of my little baby here at thelosthighwayhotel. So I gave your new product a chance.
This time around James Ransone’s bug-eyed sheriff’s deputy has been bumped up to lead. I like Ransone. He’s been served well playing various comedic foils in David Simon’s HBO shows The Wire, Treme and Generation Kill. Here, however, he seems as lost as Ethan Hawke before him; stumbling around a farmhouse, feebly hoping to protect a young mother and her two sons who are hiding out from an abusive father figure. But that nasty Bughuul is up to his old tricks, luring the kids into making murderous home movies, using the ghosts of previously snared children to do his dirty work.
I suppose you could argue that the shift of focus is the draw this time, seeing as we follow the interchangeable young brothers (played by real life siblings Dartanian and Robert Daniel Sloan) in their descent into homicidal suggestibility. But its fractured and unconvincing. So there’s another stack of super 8 film canisters (more elaborate and therefore less plausible and less scary than last time) to get through. And while the kids get creeped out in the basement, Ransone and mother figure Shannyn Sossamon skirt a tentative romance upstairs.
But who the hell cares? Note that I’ve not mentioned any character names outside of the franchise’s Kerrang-reject boogieman (and are we calling this a franchise now)? That’s because there’s so little to go on. I had to look up Ransone’s character name on imdb. And I’ve only just watched the movie for crying out loud. And his credited character name is Ex-Deputy So & So. Really. That’s his name. That sums up a lot of problems in itself.
Evidently clutching at straws for anything to help build this unnecessary sequel, screenwriters Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill appear to have turned to the source music that closed out the first movie for inspiration. Suddenly Boards Of Canada’s “Gyroscope” from the brilliant Geogaddi album has actually become a plot point. Eerie music interspersed with children counting has genuinely been folded into the film’s mythology. I don’t even know where to begin with the desperation in that.
So, as 90-odd minutes ticked by, I was treated to a bunch of already-forgotten cheap jump scares – none of which seemed effective to anyone in the theatre – and lo and behold, the mythology got pointlessly tangled and everything ended with a farcical (not to mention narratively invalid) big boo. Lights up and out we all went. Back to our lives. A little worse off.
At least Boards Of Canada probably got something out of this. I hope to hear their pay cheque being put to good use on another album one day. Can’t say I’ll be holding out for Sinister 3 with the same bated breath.
I’ll give you some credit though; the film looked great. Director of photography Amy Vincent can keep her head held high. I imagine director Ciarán Foy will already be looking for whatever’s next. Do him a favour and let him loose of your hollow conveyor belt before his reputation gets tarnished any further.
I don’t think I’m asking for much. Just look to the furtive indie scene that’s crackling all around you. Realise that you’re giving horror a bad name with your apathetic product and try bringing something genuinely dynamic to the table. That’d really be surprising. How about it? Why not try being better?
‘Til next time, love n hugs x