Tim Pratt
SF and Fantasy Writer

WhiskeyHorror: Sinister

WhiskeyHorror report:

Sazeracs with Bulleit rye (and I finally got some orange bitters in the house — sazeracs are fine with spiced cherry bitters, but so much more right with orange). Then we moved on to the Buffalo Trace bourbon, sipping some straight, though I had an old fashioned, too.

We watched Sinister, which is one of the more genuinely disturbing horror flicks I’ve seen, mostly because of all the children-in-jeopardy stuff, which never used to bother me much until (surprise) I became a parent myself. The snuff films were hard to watch, too, I think because they mostly looked so realistic: dirty, low-light, not impeccably staged. (The iconic hanging scene was an exception, perhaps because we saw it in slow-motion before the title — still disturbing, but so much better lit and composed than the other messy dirty shots. Which, to be clear, I found more effective because they looked so plausible.)

There were some early moments when the main character showed intelligence, like his first impulse to call the cops, which he did only moments after we started yelling, “Dude, call the cops!” at the screen — sure, he thought better of it and hung up, but at that point, such a reaction was reasonable. Later on, when he knew for a fact that a very bad person was occasionally entering his house — and had no reason to think it was inescapable supernatural shenanigans, but just a mortal murderer — I couldn’t believe he didn’t round up his obviously beloved family and get the hell out. I understand the justification the screenwriters had in mind, that he was obsessed and not sleeping and had tunnel vision about his project, but as a father myself I just couldn’t believe he wouldn’t flee sooner. (That could be more about Ethan Hawke’s performance than a failure in the script, which novelist C. Robert Cargill mostly wrote… or just a quirk about where my own suspension of disbelief fails to be suspended.)

I can nitpick some of the procedural elements (a true crime writer wouldn’t be a little more careful handling previously undiscovered evidence?), but the writing-related bits about the main character mostly rang true (again, novelist scriptwriter), there were some effective scares, no more idiot plotting than you see in most movies,  a convincing and wrenching husband-and-wife argument, lots of powerful creepy imagery with the kids, a couple of “I can’t watch this because it’s too horrible” moments (which is not a bad thing in a horror movie, necessarily), no sexual violence (a real dealbreaker for me in movies involving kids — I just can’t handle it as the parent of a first grader), very few stupid jump scares, just enough occult nonsense to make it all stick together, and an ending that you see coming from some distance away, but with mounting dread, not boredom. I’d recommend it, if you can stand stories about awful things happening to children.

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