Sinister 2 (2015)

 

Sinister 2 is one of those rare sequels that actually works as a follow-up to the original, adding on additional information and thematic stuff without losing any of the elements that made the original so compelling. To be fair, though, Sinister 2 isn’t the sort of film that could stand on its own; it relies too heavily on the mythology and “rules” defined in the original. Anyone coming in cold will find themselves very confused. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – just an observation. The story told in the original film was already concluded. Sinister 2, while heavily influenced by those events and characters, is more interested in exploring a different angle. And you know what? That’s just fine. I’m not usually a fan of sequels, since the original movies are rarely written in a way that lends itself to an interesting and well-rounded multi-chaptered story. More often than not, sequels are filmed in order to make money and end up confusing the themes of the original to the point where the story becomes very close to incomprehensible. Consider the Saw and Insidious series as examples.

The story in Sinister 2 is thus: a mother and her two sons are hiding in an abandoned house from their abusive father. Deputy So and So from the first movie, reeling from the violent murders, is attempting to track down and destroy the evil responsible – with a limited amount of success, it must be said, and a whole lot of old-school arson. Unfortunately, the hideaway the family has picked happens to be the site of a horrific series of murders – and guess what’s hiding in the basement with a trunk full of snuff films?

The pacing isn’t as tight here as it was in the original, but for the most part, Sinister 2 works on a technical level. The setting is interesting and dynamic, hinting at darker tensions just below the surface. The camera work is excellent, the sound-design intriguing, and the characters well cast. Unfortunately, Sinister 2 does share the original’s propensity towards jump-scares, which was – and remains – a cheap tactic that wears its welcome well before the end. And while the ending felt forced, Sinister 2 did a great job of rounding outs its characters – all interesting, most likable, some redeemable, and a few too far gone to save. It’s also not afraid to give its protagonists realistic and deep flaws – these people make mistakes. Horrible mistakes, sometimes. But always for very understandable and – unfortunately – human reasons.

However, the same question I had for the original also popped up in the second. It’s established early on that the demon – or whatever Bughuul is – lives inside artistic representations of violence; songs, drawings, radio recordings, and film. Bughuul then gains power by corrupting children through said pieces of art, and can survive inside them for years. The Sinister series clearly understands that representations of violence and traumatic events are compelling, but doesn’t really go into why these pieces of art are so powerful. This seems strange to me, as Sinister is – in essence – a horror film about the impact of horrific videos. The characters seem to argue that the pieces of art – most, but not all of them made on film – were created to document tragedy, and then go on to “infect” later witnesses who stumble across the evidence. Except then we have the audience watching a horror film, about characters watching horrible events captured on video. So….what is Sinister’s opinion on horror, class?

Honestly, at this point I can’t say. It’s not that horrific images will inevitably corrupt the people who see them, because this is – again – a horror film. Horror films are scary, they’re full of shocking imagery and nightmares projected up on screen. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. This is what horror movies do. Except, I’m still not sure what Sinister, either the original or the sequel, means to do. It’s not even that Bughuul’s motives are hard to understand – he’s hungry, and that’s what monsters do – but rather that Sinister doesn’t seem to understand how it’s philosophy fits into the larger world.

Because here’s the thing: artistic representations of horrible events, of trauma and pain and nightmares, are everywhere. They’re timeless. Powerful. And in a lot of ways, I would argue that they’re necessary. What do human beings use this art for?

To remember. And, in many cases, to work through our own history.

See, people write about horrible things not because they want to celebrate awful things that happened, but because it’s human nature to try and come to term through things by way of art and storytelling. You could argue that these were the first coping mechanisms. Sometimes people create scary stories and creepy paintings because it genuinely helps them deal with their past, and from the confusing thoughts that result from it. Former soldiers have made masks to help them come to terms with their PTSD and war experiences.

Some of these pieces are quite beautiful. Some of them are horrific. And all of them are incredibly, painfully, honest.

Sometimes, art can be horrific and hard to look at. That doesn’t mean it’s without impact or importance.

And that’s the part that Sinister as a series seems to struggle with. It acknowledges that these images have a power – supernatural and otherwise – but seems unable or unwilling to consider that sometimes, horrific imagery does have a practical purpose. People create this art for a reason. And people watch horror movies for a reason.

I walked into Sinister 2 without expecting very much. I came out with a lot to consider. Watch the original, then follow it up with the sequel. They’re well worth looking at.

The Expelled (2010)

Also listed as F on IMDB for some reason. The story concerns Robert Anderson, an English professor who makes a point of taunting and belittling his students until one of them finally gets fed up and decks him. Now, in the real world, this would have resulted in immediate suspension for the student in question, because that is assault. However, The Expelled works on a different system of logic than our world, because in their world, Mr. Anderson is the one facing disciplinary actions. Because…reasons. After taking some forced leave, Mr. Anderson finds himself in divorce procedures with his wife, clumsily attempting to connect to his now distant daughter, and completely passive in the face of his students’ indifference and rudeness in the classroom. In his off time, Mr. Anderson has descended into paranoia, obsessively collecting information on violent crimes committed by teenagers – especially crimes committed against teachers.

2fmovie1025009

Seeing a trend here?

We discover that every aspect of Mr. Anderson’s life has been changed for the worse because of this one event. He’s become disillusioned with life and incompetent at his job, humored by increasingly frustrated and confused colleagues. After sentencing his daughter to detention, Mr. Anderson begins to suspect that a group of hooded teenagers has broken into the school with the express purpose of causing violent mayhem. He attempts to convince the other professors and security guards stuck in the building to call for help, but none of them believe him.

f-the-expelled

Then people start dying, and it turns out his paranoid ranting might actually have a point.

The Expelled is a weird movie. It’s also an oppressively dreary one. There’s a difference between creating an atmospheric story and sucking all of the color out of it. All of the scenes are shot in increasingly gray shades, and green shadow. If there’s a metaphor there, then I have missed it. The camera work veers toward close-ups too much for my liking and the hand-held shots are a bit too blunt to be effective. Again, there is a difference between creating a creepy, atmospheric space, and beating your audience over the head with a sign reading MOOD: CREEPY. IT’S CREEPY. DON’T FORGET IT’S CREEPY. DID WE MENTION IT’S CREEPY?

 

Trust me. We get the point.

 

Subtlety is not a strength of The Expelled. Strangely, this is combined with an unwillingness to display acts of violence, but instead focusing only on the aftermath. Normally this would be a move I’d applaud in a horror film, but thematically it doesn’t fit with the camerawork in the rest of the story. The Expelled tends to (not literally) hit the audience in the head with its themes and the mood of any chosen scene. There’s no subtlety or nuance in any of the scenes. Hell, the ending is the only scene that actually leaves things up to interpretation. Everything else is clearly and loudly spelled out to the audience. We know how we are supposed to feel in every scene, who we are supposed to root for, and there are no moments of moral gray.

0525167bd669bc8cb62cc6589355260c

Which, quite honestly, is boring. Incidentally, this is also how I felt for most of the film.

None of the characters are likable or interesting. There are no character arcs or development. I wasn’t emotionally invested enough to care whether these characters lived or died, which is a problem in a film that supposedly has A Message.

hqdefault

Now, what is that message?

EXPELLEDDVDARTFEAT

I’m….really not sure.

The feeling I got while watching The Expelled is the same feeling I get whenever I see Fox News talking about the follies of the millennial generation; we’re lazy, violent, we don’t see the big picture, and worse of all, we don’t respect our elders. That seems to be the underlying theme, insomuch as The Expelled actually has one. However, the film doesn’t give us any adult figures that are actually worthy of the respect they so desperately crave. We never learn the reasons or even the identities behind the hooded killers, so it’s impossible to gauge the validity of their motives one way or another. Nothing in the film indicates that Mr. Anderson was actually a good teacher before the incident. Furthermore, his defining moments are, in order, hitting his daughter and letting his ex-wife walk into a trap.

I could get behind a film with an unsympathetic protagonist, but The Expelled seems determined to see things from Mr. Anderson’s perspective. I find this troubling, to say the least.

It should also be said that while violence in schools is a worldwide problem, the way that The Expelled addresses them doesn’t add anything productive to the discussion. The issues of race, poverty, and discrimination are never even touched on. Instead, we have an entire cast of well off and decidedly unlikable white protagonists struggling against a pack of hooded teenagers. Intersectionality is never brought up. Of course, that would have required some nuance in the writing, which The Expelled lacks.

sat-thu-an-hinh-2010_photo

If this film were made in America, the group of hooded teenagers would have been immediately coded as black – however, I’m told that hoodies don’t have the same racial implications abroad that they do in the US. This may have changed do to events that occurred after the film’s release (2010), but it’s my opinion that the villains in The Expelled aren’t coded as racially Other when compared with the protagonists. This is one point in the movie’s favor. Yay, it’s not overtly racist.

The one thing I did enjoy in the film was how the villains were filmed. They were portrayed more as a pack of silent animals than human beings, using parkour to slip in and out of shadows, and never once making a sound. The scenes were they surrounded and closed in on a victim were some of the most effective in the film.

To sum up, this film hates teenagers. Normally I’d say skip it, but I’d like someone to watch it so I can have someone to discuss it with. Someone has to make sense of this.