Why We Like Exorcist Movies: They Don’t Just Showcase the Devil, They Conjure up God Too

“Now, of course, evangelical Christianity has become one of the cornerstones of contemporary American life. And here we are, four decades after The Exorcist, still paying to get the bejesus scared out of us by watching a movie set in 1971 about a good woman “possessed” by her secret demon self. The Devil is here because, of course, he never left, and never will. In so many ways, he is old news. But the ritual of a horror film that reassures us by calling forth God to defeat him: That’s a conjuring we never get tired of.”  –Owen Gleiberman

We don’t agree with every point, but this is a thoughtful piece,  with an intriguing perspective, by longtime Entertainment Weekly film critic (and ardent movie lover) Owen Gleiberman that deserves a read… especially if you’re interested in exploring the role of God in exorcism-themed horror films.

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Sinister (2012) – Disturbing New Red Band Trailer Will Put Asses In Seats!

The Red Band trailer for  Sinister is unnerving because we’re used to dialogue–or voice-over narration– telling us the set-up for the film. Here? No such thing. We simply see all the increasingly scary images, and the tension builds to freaky levels...

I think I first saw the Sinister  trailer this summer, and it definitely and swiftly was added to my “must see”  list.These days, that doesn’t always equate to “must see in theater”,  sometimes it’s “must watch as soon as I can obtain it, as long as it costs less than ten bucks”, but you get the idea. However this, THIS  new Red Band trailer, may very well get my ass in a movie theater seat!

OK, I’m not above admitting the main thing that sold me was that ten-word review from Eric Walkuski at JoBlo.com:. SINISTER IS GOING TO FUCK UP A LOT OF PEOPLE.  DEAL,  Sinister!  I am ON BOARD! If it were up to me, that’d be the tagline. Sinister: It’s Going To Fuck Up a Lot Of People.  OK, before I write about what else for this trailer has a lot going for it, check out this pair of short but promising HD clips:

Not too shabby …and if you go to the official website for the movie here,  they’ve got loads of even more impressive and creepy media there. Whup! Time-out, let me clarify. The description of the media as ‘creepy’ only applies if you watch it in the daytime. Watch it after dark and the scare level ratchets up to very frightening. The site keeps the official plot description short and sweet:

SINISTER is a frightening new thriller from the producer of the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY films and the writer-director of THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE. Ethan Hawke plays a true crime novelist who discovers a box of mysterious, disturbing home movies that plunge his family into a nightmarish experience of supernatural horror.

Supernatural horror can be one of the trickiest things to pull off successfully. To really sell it, you don’t just need scares and a storyline, you need to set the tone right with the soundtrack, camera choices, staging, score, and general atmosphere. Oh, and characters that we care about or identify with.  Two other supernatural horror movies that got a wide release this summer had me looking forward to them: The Possession,  which seemed to have a fresh take on the familiar exorcism theme (according to reviews from many critics and friends I trust, it really didn’t, but worse yet, wasn’t scary) and The Apparition,  which…OK, not so much excitement on The Apparition,  especially as it got closer to the screening date (and I didn’t even consider putting up a ‘milestone’ countdown to the release date, as I did with The Possession).  My point is, the general consensus was that they were a let-down.

The Red Band trailer for Sinister  is unnerving because we’re used to dialogue–or voice-over narration– telling us the set-up for the film. Here? No such thing. We simply see all the increasingly scary images, and the tension builds to freaky levels simply because we (like Ethan Hawke’s character) don’t know what we’re looking at.

We do get familiar images of a family settling into their cozy home for the evening, tucking the kids in …then the father find an old storage box with mysterious reels of Super-8 footage.* He sets it up and starts calmly watching what appears to be a cheerful family enjoying their pool party on a playful sunny day, having snacks, then the next footage we see of the family–after dark– looks like two bodies bound to sun-lounge pool furniture, roughly pulled into the deep end of the same family pool by something off-screen (I assume with bricks or cinderblocks attached to them).  Wait, WHAT?  Then it just gets freakier. We’re not sure what we’re seeing, but we become increasingly confident that whatever it is, it’s going to be fucked up.

By the time we get to the really  disturbing shots at the end of the trailer, there’s no music shoved in our faces as the home movie footage reel shows an entire family of four being hung (it looks less like a suicide and more like a lynching by some invisible force). No music at all, in fact. There’s just the quiet whirring of the film projector, then a cut to black.  Boom.



I also was impressed that the trailer did something different for a contemporary horror trailer (besides no dialogue), which was to toss the ‘seat jumper’ moment (if that upside-down shirtless kid unfolding weirdly out of the cardboard box, then stretching his mouth open and letting out a demonic yet terrified screech at the top of his lungs didn’t make you jump,  I’m pretty sure you temporarily felt like your blood run cold) into the mix 2/3 of the way through, rather than after the title card. One TV spot is guilty of that, but I doubt that was a conscious choice by the filmmakers.  By now, I was automatically cringing after the title card, waiting for an in-your-face loud jolt, that never came …just the card ominously melting through.

I don’t think I’m the only one fed up with this cookie-cutter format for genre trailers. I was sick of the trend–which first turned up in TV spots, then spread to theatrical trailers–over ten years ago. EVERYONE is ready for that jump. The vast majority of US horror trailers now take this by-the-numbers approach: Establishing scene, plot exposition, a creepy (or what they think is creepy) moment, building to a flurry of images while the music speeds up along with it, then TITLE CARD, then wait for it… LOUD NOISE, CHEAP JUMP! followed by a voice-over such as  The (insert vague and shitty title here)… Opening in theaters (insert date here).

Speaking of release dates,  Sinister  will be hitting theaters on October 12th. The website has enough cool content to check out now (just the font they chose is original and creepy), but also certain pages are “Coming Soon”. I’m guessing we’re going to get quite a bit more information (hopefully not so much we go in partially spoiled) and press on Sinister   between now and then), and I’ll be passing on all I can!


*thank God that for once, this is as close to ‘found footage’ as the movie comes –since later in the trailer the projector bursts into flames, apparently after the projector starts running on its own in the middle of the night. Love the shot of Ethan Hawke stepping in front of the screen,  foreshadowing him turning into a character on one of the doomed family’s reels.