Thursday, May 19, 2011

'Sinister' nails feel of a 1970s horror flick

Sinister (2011)
Starring: Donna Hamblin, Donny Versiga, Lucien Eisenach, Luc Bernier, and Isabelle Stephen
Director: Steve Sessions
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

When Emily (Hamblin) comes to believe she is being haunted by the ghost of her mother, she enlists the help of her brother (Versiga) and a ghost hunter (Bernier). The discover that the root of her problem is actually an enraged voodoo conjurer (Eisenach) who has placed a death curse on her. Will Emily and her brother be able to harness the power of voodoo themselves and reverse the evil magic before it's too late?

In the years since the retro-flick "Grindhouse" captured the imagination of filmmakers with an affection for low-budget thrillers and horror films from the 1970s and 1980s (if not that of the movie-going public), there has been steady stream of movies made with the intent emulating "classic" drive-in movies.

Many of these efforts have been gimmicky failures, being run-of-the-mill direct-to-video low- or no-budget films with digital "aging" effects added. Even those pictures where the filmmakers tried to capture the essence of movies from the time frame, they usually failed to get the look, the feel, or the nature of the acting right.

But with "Sinister", writer/director Steve Sessions hits every right note to bring us a modern film that would have fit just as well in the 1970s as it does today.

When the opening credits appeared on the screen, the chosen font and the music both made me think that Maxim Media--the parent company of Brain Damage Films, Pendulum Pictures, and Midnight Releasing--had found an old movie that they were re-releasing along with their usual current-day indie fare. However, it quickly became apparent that what I was watching was not an old movie, but a movie where someone had finally captured "grindhouse" atmosphere in a new picture, because the featured actors were mostly not born, or were in pre-school during the '70s.

It isn't that Sessions tried to make a period piece--the film is full of cellphones and other 21st century references--that makes the film an effective mimic, but rather he actually seems to have watched and paid attention to those old time horror flicks.

From the use of lighting to the color schemes, from the cinematography to the soundtrack music, from the nature of the special effects to the style of acting, everything about this movie has a genuine "retro" feel about it. Even the pacing is reminiscent of an old style movie, with a shocking murder to get things going and then a quiet period while the film builds toward its terrifying finale.

If you can't get enough of those "grindhouse" movies, I think you'll find "Sinister" well worth your time.

(My thanks to Maxim Media for providing me with a screener copy of this film.)