UP­STAIRS TO EVIL

Sin­is­ter The Hang­over Part III

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film - Evan Wil­liams

(MA15+) ★★★★✩ Na­tional re­lease

Na­tional re­lease

I(MA15+) ★★★✩✩ HAVE some ad­vice for Amer­i­can cou­ples with young fam­i­lies who may be think­ing of mov­ing to a new house. First, check the place wasn’t the scene of a grue­some mur­der. Sec­ond, make sure the power bills have been paid and all the light switches are work­ing. And fi­nally, if the house has an at­tic, as it surely will, on no ac­count ven­ture into it at night, even if strange noises can be heard in the ceil­ing.

In the best Hol­ly­wood haunted house movies these rules are in­vari­ably bro­ken, usu­ally to good ef­fect. But some peo­ple never learn. You’d think new­ly­weds would be more care­ful af­ter The Ami­tyville Hor­ror, that sem­i­nal 1979 thriller, allegedly based on real events. But no. Pa­trick Wil­son was de­ter­mined to ex­plore that creepy at­tic in James Wan’s In­sid­i­ous, and soon ghostly ap­pari­tions were pop­ping up every­where.

And look what hap­pened to that nice cou­ple in Para­nor­mal Ac­tiv­ity, when the guy sets up his video cam­era in the bed­room at night and all man­ner of nasty do­ings are recorded. Made on a tiny bud­get in 2009, Para­nor­mal Ac­tiv­ity is said to be the most prof­itable film of all time on a cost-to-earn­ings ra­tio, and we’re now wait­ing for the fifth in­stal­ment.

Mean­while we have the crazy-brave Oswalt fam­ily in Sin­is­ter, a supremely scary su­per­nat­u­ral thriller from di­rec­tor Scott Der­rick­son. El­li­son Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) is a writer, keen to move into his new home to start work on a book. El­li­son writes about real-life mur­ders; his last suc­cess was called Ken­tucky Blood and he’s des­per­ate to pro­duce an­other best­seller. His wife, Tracy (Juli­ette Ry­lance), ac­cus­tomed to his writer’s tantrums, hap­pily joins him in the move. Af­ter all, they’ve bought the new house at a bar­gain price (you won­der why), and it’s big enough for their two chil­dren, Ash­ley (Clare Fo­ley) and Trevor (Michael Hall D’Ad­dario). When the lo­cal sher­iff meets them on the day of the move, drop­ping not-so-sub­tle hints that the Oswalts would do bet­ter to live some­where else, El­li­son takes no no­tice.

But cer­tain things about the house seem puz­zling. In the gar­den El­li­son no­tices a tree with a heavy branch par­tially sawn through and touch­ing the ground. (There’s a ghastly ex­pla­na­tion for this, re­vealed in a pro­logue.) Ex­plor­ing the at­tic — as we knew he would — El­li­son dis­cov­ers a box con­tain­ing spools of 8mm film, bear­ing ti­tles such as Sleepy Time and Pool Party, ap­par­ently a col­lec­tion of home movies left by the pre­vi­ous owner. Also on hand is an 8mm pro­jec­tor. El­li­son im­pro­vises a screen pinned to a wall, chooses a spool at ran­dom and set­tles down to watch.

The im­ages are blurred and un­steady — as the best home movies al­ways are — but we ap­pear to be see­ing a se­ries of grisly killings: a fam­ily drowned in their pool, an­other burned alive, that aw­ful busi­ness with the tree.

Trans­fer­ring the film to his com­puter, El­li­son is able to en­large and ma­nip­u­late the im­ages, much as David Hem­mings did (all those years ago) in Blow-Up. Is that a shad­owy masked figure he can see in the back­ground? With the help of a friendly deputy sher­iff (James Ran­sone), El­li­son dis­cov­ers the de­tails of var­i­ous mul­ti­ple mur­ders — com­mit­ted at dif­fer­ent times in dif­fer­ent cities — that seem to cor­re­spond to the crimes on the film. They go back more than 30 years. Could the mur­derer be an old man or were mul­ti­ple killers in­volved? In each case, a young girl of the fam­ily has dis­ap­peared, ap­par­ently ab­ducted by the killer. Where are these chil­dren now? This could be the book of the year.

Der­rick­son es­tab­lished his hor­ror cre­den­tials with The Ex­or­cism of Emily Rose in 2005, and he’s well prac­tised in the tricks of the trade, es­pe­cially the use of sound and a pref­er­ence for dis­tanc­ing long shots over close­ups. He wrote the screen­play of Sin­is­ter with C. Robert Cargill, and it works with chill­ing ef­fec­tive­ness: its si­lences, its fleet­ing shapes, its sud­den noises all beau­ti­fully timed.

Hawke, play­ing the half-crazed ob­ses­sive, is al­most as un­set­tling as some of those ghouls and bo­gey­men. It goes with­out say­ing that nearly all of it is filmed in semi-dark­ness, and the debt to Para­nor­mal Ac­tiv­ity is plain enough. But I kept think­ing of the Ni­co­las Cage char­ac­ter in Joel Schu­macher’s 8MM, who ex­am­ines a spool of home movie film found in a dead man’s drawer and un­cov­ers a nasty se­cret.

What is it about 8mm film that some­how makes it spooky: the flick­er­ing pic­ture, the sug­ges­tion of time past? I doubt if Sin­is­ter would be quite as scary if El­li­son had dis­cov­ered a box of video­tapes or im­ages on some­one’s cam­era-phone.

All reser­va­tions aside, Sin­is­ter ranks as a mi­nor mas­ter­piece of its kind. Be­fore the ad­vent of VCRs, its dis­trib­u­tors would have re­leased it in mag­net­i­cally striped 8mm sound prints for home view­ing, much as films are re­leased now on DVD. Would Sin­is­ter have looked even scarier that way: an 8mm film within an 8mm film? I won­der. THE Hang­over Part III re­turns us to Las Vegas, where the first in­stal­ment be­gan with a wild night at Cae­sar’s Palace, that tem­ple to Amer­i­can greed and vul­gar­ity. You’ll re­mem­ber in that first film a bunch of all-Amer­i­can guys booze them­selves in­sen­si­ble at a bucks’ party and wake up next morn­ing with no mem­o­ries of the night be­fore. The same gang (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Gal­i­fi­anakis) are back for Part III, said to be last of the se­ries, and di­rected again by Todd Phillips. It’s as crass, raunchy and of­fen­sive as ever.

The hu­mour this time rests on sev­eral sim­ple propo­si­tions (and, like the film­mak­ers, I make no apol­ogy for po­lit­i­cal in­cor­rect­ness in list­ing them). One: fat guys are funny. Two: fat women are funny, es­pe­cially when flirt­ing with fat guys. Three: fat guys are fun­nier when they’re stupid, or a bit slow, or when they’re suf­fer­ing from a men­tal ill­ness and refuse to take their med­i­ca­tion. Four: foul lan­guage and sex­ist and racist jokes are funny, pro­vided they’re de­liv­ered with a ca­sual non­cha­lance. And, I hate to say it, an­i­mal suf­fer­ing is funny. In Part III a gi­raffe is de­cap­i­tated on a busy free­way and a chicken smoth­ered un­der a pil­low, its last gasps ob­served closely.

So why do we laugh? Why did I laugh? Be­cause it’s done with such gusto and ir­rev­er­ence, be­cause the screen­play is gen­uinely witty, and no one (thank good­ness) takes any­thing se­ri­ously. The fat guys are Alan (Gal­i­fi­anakis) and a Vegas gang­ster named Mar­shall (John Good­man). The funny Asian guy is Mr Chow (Ken Jeong), a bi­sex­ual dru­gad­dict and crim­i­nal who has made off with a stack of gold bars be­long­ing to Mar­shall.

The sur­real hu­mour can be savoured in an early scene when Alan, af­ter a row with his father (Jef­frey Tam­bor), set­tles on a sofa with blar­ing head­phones over his ears, un­aware that his dad, out of fo­cus be­hind him, is suf­fer­ing a fa­tal heart at­tack on the floor.

Spec­tac­u­lar ac­tion se­quences and cliffhang­ing stunts are neatly blended with the comic­strip vi­o­lence and coarse repar­tee, and it all looks fetch­ing on the big screen. No more Han­govers? In Vegas, I wouldn’t bet on it.

Sin­is­ter

Ethan Hawke as El­li­son Oswalt in

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