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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26

Even Sinisterer

Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Published Thursday August 20, 06:22 pm
Sinister 2 ups the ante but flubs the landing

 Sinister 2



Among all the cheapo horror films studios have dumped at the multiplex over the past few years, 2012’s Sinister was one of the strongest. At first glance a meat-and-potatoes scary movie, right under the surface you’ll find a man (Ethan Hawke) who’s willing to put his family at risk for another stab at literary success. His personal demons allow a real one to creep inside the household, and all hell breaks loose.

The film was permeated by a consistent feeling of dread, and punctuated by horrific Super 8 home movies of families being slaughtered. (The lawnmower one is particularly nasty.) Sinister wasn’t a runaway hit at the box office, but it’s one of the few newer horror flicks that stands up to a second viewing.

Instead of simply rehashing the original movie’s plot, Sinister 2 addresses the questions left by it. The answers are surprisingly satisfactory, and they open the door to the dysfunctional dynamics of a new family.

To fully “enjoy” Sinister 2, there are some basic story mechanics you need to be familiar with, like Bughuul, a pagan demon that lives through visual representations. Bughuul haunts kids until he can convince them to murder their families while filming the carnage. One caveat: The slaughter can only take place after the family has abandoned the house where they were being haunted.

This time, the Collins family are the unfortunate ones. On the run from her physically abusive husband, Courtney Collins (Shannyn Sossamon, Wayward Pines) and her two sons Dylan and Zach find shelter in a church, which was the scene of an impossibly grisly murder years ago. While in theory the Collinses are easy prey, two obstacles get in Bughuul’s way: Former Deputy So & So (Ethan Hawke’s cop friend from the first film) and Dylan, the kid the spirit is trying to recruit for the gruesome task.

Dylan is haunted by nightmares, which only go away after watching one of those charming Super 8 ditties, each more brutal than the one before. (I had to look away during “Sunday service”. And I saw A Serbian Film uncut.) The demon and his minions — kids who have previously murdered their families — want to brainwash Dylan, and considering his tumultuous family life, success seems more a matter of when than if.

Ciarán Foy (Citadel) takes over the directing reins from creator Scott Derrickson (the man tasked with bringing Doctor Strange to the big screen), but Derrickson remains involved with the script, which explains the smooth continuity. Foy pushes the boundaries further, and has a particularly good time with those horrifying shorts embedded in the film. Another smart decision is giving a starring role to Deputy So & So (James Ransone, Tangerine), a man who’s not suited to deal with the demon, but who’s nonetheless motivated to do good.

Unlike the first Sinister though, the sequel doesn’t stick the landing. The primary culprit is Courtney Collins’ ex-husband, a one-note character who barely qualifies as a plot device. Also, for a movie that has carefully followed and deepened the rules established by the first chapter, the conclusion doesn’t make much sense. Sinister 2 is one of those cases in which the journey beats the destination, hands down.


American Ultra



Defenders of much-maligned director Josh Trank (Fantastic Four) point to Chronicle as his vindication, but the truth is the found-footage romp was just as much the product of scriptwriter Max Landis as it was of the filmmaker.

Unlike Trank, Landis doesn’t stink the joint out with his second effort, American Ultra. Sure, there’s barely a single original idea in the film (it’s a mix of the Bourne series with Seth Rogen’s stoner comedies), but the dialogue is crackling and the pairing of Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart elevates the material, much as they did six years ago with Adventureland.

Eisenberg and Stewart are Mike and Phoebe, a couple of slackers in Smalltown, USA. They lack prospects and Mike seems physically unable to leave the place, but they love each other.

Unbeknownst to both, a CIA flunky has ordered a hit on Mike. Turns out he’s actually a dormant assassin from a failed program (sound familiar?) and now the agency is tying loose ends. Luckily for Mike, his supervisor (Connie Britton, Friday Night Lights) is willing to go to war for him, and might just be less of a failure than everyone thinks.

A massive improvement for director Nima Nourizadeh over the moronic Project X, American Ultra is stylish to a fault, which is half the fun. The other half comes from Eisenberg and Stewart, who are both genuinely likeable here.

It’s impossible to become truly invested on their fate when the plot against them is so harebrained (although watching Topher Grace as a baddie who’s in way over his head is rather amusing). American Ultra could have been balls-to-the-wall crazy, but it seems the creative team’s heart wasn’t quite in it. The result is predictably (and unfortunately) lukewarm.


The Look of Silence



Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing (2012) was an extreme example of the power of the documentary format. Not only did it bring attention to the genocide of nearly a million people at the hands of the military in Indonesia in the late ‘60s, it also managed to trigger remorse in one of the men responsible. No small feat, considering that no one’s ever been brought to justice for these crimes, and the majority of the perpetrators are all too proud of their atrocities.

More than a sequel, The Look of Silence is the flipside of the same coin. Much more focused on the victims, the film follows Adi, an optometrist who goes about confronting the heads of the killing squads that murdered his brother. He’s provided with plenty of details, but little remorse. In fact, Adi’s subjects are more interested in spewing veiled threats and finding out where he’s from, probably to send him a Christmas card.

Oppenheimer is merciless. He shows Adi footage of the criminals detailing their actions (they are stomach-churning) with smiles on their faces. Adi goes from upset to livid as each one of the encounters unfolds in similar fashion. Just as troubling is the fact that Adi’s son is being taught at school that the actions of the genocides were justified, given the supposedly barbaric customs of the communists (union members and farmers are thrown into the same bag).

The litany of confessions is tempered with vignettes from Adi’s parents’ daily lives. Both are over 100 years old — and while his mom is sharp as a tack, his dad is weak, withered, blind and deaf. Both are living history, but that history is exceedingly tough to take.

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