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Fantastic Fest: “Sinister” and “The Greatest Movie Ever Rolled”

It’s a massive testament to the skills of director Scott Derrickson that in Sinister, he takes what sounds on paper like a three year-old’s dumbest idea for a high-concept monster (SPOILER if you haven’t seen the trailers: It’s a Babylonian god…named Bughuul! Who eats children… and lives inside vintage home movies!) and then makes you regret getting the large soda, because what he has done is piss-your-pants scary. Where did this come from? This is the director of The Day the Earth Stood Still remake and The Exorcism of Emily Rose, big disappointments both. So whilke we don’t want to overly credit a co-writer here, perhaps the fact that Derrickson’s collaborator is longtime Ain’t It Cool News contributor C. Robert Cargill (“Massawyrm”) led him to avoid precisely the sorts of things Internet talk-backers would be likely to complain about.

Then again, maybe casual readers should be warned that this kind of input is precisely what will make writers like myself possibly enjoy the proceedings more than Joe Average, as the subtext of the story is a very knowing look at the difficulties of being in a relationship with a writer. Ethan Hawke’s Ellison is clearly a worse person than most of us, as he moves his family into a house that’s a murder site without telling them, but once you tone down the exaggeration factor that horror has, his fights with his wife are a lot like the ones I have, and I’d reckon most other writers have. The difficulties of immersing yourself in your work while in the home, having to shut your loved ones out while you get into the headspace needed, the tension between the real and the written… it’s all here. But even if you don’t live the real life of a scribe, there’s plenty of stuff going bump in the night as well; this is the creepiest haunted house since the one in Ju-on: The Grudge.

Most impressive when one thinks back upon it is the fact that the movie mainly takes place in and around one house (though Vincent D’Onofrio cameos via Skype). It’s a great way to maximize the budget, but unlike, say, the Paranormal Activity movies, it never feels that way, because you feel the story existing further beyond those parameters. Not that it doesn’t have a great deal in common with those films – they’re part of its blender of influences alongside The Grudge, Ringu and the Nightmare on Elm Street movies. But Derrickson maneuvers them into his own vision with a sure hand, and an expert sense of when to cut for both maximum scares and minimum MPAA interference, giving you the full implication without necessarily as much gore as you think.

Only complaint: the soundtrack cheats a bit, full of bumps and noises that may or may not be organic parts of the action onscreen. It’s great as industrial/ambient/abrasive stuff in and of itself, though.

I had planned to follow up with The Collection, but had found it waaay sold out even before I tried looking, and instead found myself in a screening of Doug Benson’s The Greatest Movie Ever Rolled, presented by “Pot Wonderful.” I hope he continues his pattern of riffing on Morgan Spurlock concepts, because frankly, the thought of watching people go to Comic-Con stoned, just bumping into stuff constantly, is one that delights me more than it oughta. In this one, the idea is to fund a movie about going on tour as a comedian by making a movie while going on tour to raise the funds for the movie. It’s a (literal) high concept that’s designed to make you go “Huh?” and then not think about it much any more, as it isn’t exactly dwelled upon. It mostly just follows Benson and pal Graham Elwood on a national tour, on planes and rental cars, as Benson gets high with fans, Elwood entertains with his various T-shirts purchased on Middle-East USO tours, both complain about electric carts in airports, dare each other to make ape noises, etc. It’s hard for me to say yes, spend $10 to see this in a theater, but I will say that at a film festival, there are times when this kind of thing makes the perfect palate-cleanser, something that’s just fun and doesn’t require too much thought. Benson has an insanely likable persona, considering I find so many stoners annoying as all hell, and it’s fun to hang out with him in the movies for a while. What that’s worth to you is in your hands.

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