So I saw Sinister last night. The film starts out with a great piece of grainy super 8mm footage of some wonderful American brutality. I got excited, thinking I was about to see a good old fashioned (as in, 1970s old fashioned) American horror film about human brutality and the horror of senseless violence, particularly in the United States.
Unfortunately, the movie eventually veered into the supernatural, asking the audience to go with it into a terrain that is entertaining, but not, ultimately, very scary. What made the great independent horror films of the 1970s work was the rooting of the horror in reality. Last House and Texas Chainsaw could very easily take place in the real world. That made them more terrifying than any American horror film before them (and some purists would argue, since).
Over the last decade, the American horror film has struggled to maintain its identity. The early part of the decade brought a flood of influence from Asian cinema. I used to hear idiots walking around insisting "The Japanese do horror better than the Americans" all the time. Usually from American filmmakers and enthusiasts. The scariest films of the decade, however, came from American filmmakers (The Strangers and Paranormal Activity). While Paranormal Activity veers into the supernatural, The Strangers proved that American filmmakers could still make very horrific, human horror films. I thought Sinister would follow in those footsteps, but alas, most American horror is still suffering the hangover from the influence of Asian horror films.
Sinister is a great example of filmmakers combining multiple elements from multiple horror films to come up with a hybrid that is both familiar and (deceptively) "new" at the same time. A great example of this from the "good old days" is The Boogeyman, which spliced together Halloween and The Exorcist and The Amityville Horror to create a very bizarre film that seemed very new at the time. Sinister takes the Asian obsession with ghosts and combines it with images of American brutality. Good for box office receipts, but not so good for the state of the American horror film.
Sinister gets points for ending on a down-note, which is essential to a good horror film. I fear that the supernatural influence, however, might hinder American horror films forever. We don't need supernatural elements in our horror films. Americans are fucking scary enough as it is!
Alec Cizak is a writer and filmmaker. His work has appeared in several journals and anthologies. His most recent novel, Breaking Glass, is available from ABC Group Documentation. He is the editor of the fiction journal, Pulp Modern.
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