Sunday, October 21, 2012


I didn't get much sleep last night. Reason? My mind was still fixated on the horror flick I had seen earlier in the morning. The film is titled Sinister, about a struggling writer who moves into a house where the previous owners were murdered. He tries to dig up the real story behind their deaths so that he can write about it, but gets more than he bargained for.

Sinister can be described as old school horror, where no CGI is used and on screen gore is kept at a minimum. Director Scott Derrickson prefers to suggest the horrific acts that take place rather than show them outright, and uses eerie music, darkness and occasional loud sounds to create the tense mood that eventually wears the viewer down. The end result is a downright successful generation of fear for the viewers.

In my opinion, the best horror films need to have either one or both of two important elements:
- the ability to scare the hell out of you
- strong lead characters that not only have an emotional attachment to the story, but also create a connection with the viewers.

I'll cite a few examples:

1. The Ring
Gore Verbinski's remake of the Japanese horror flick Ringu stars Naomi Watts as a journalist investigating the mysterious death of her niece, and comes into contact with a dastardly videotape that kills anyone who watches it after seven days. Verbinski creates the mood for the film by constantly dulling the colours throughout the film, making it look grey, cloudy and cold most of the time. Like Derrickson above, he suggests the horror instead of showing it, as the opening sequence will attest. The niece in question senses something supernatural in the house, and goes around looking for her friend who is somewhere around, but not answering her call. There is absolute quiet in this scene, and that just makes the tension even worse. Naomi herself is incredible in her role, as she desperately tries to find a way to stop the evil spirit from killing her son, with a climax that is really heart pounding (and again, horror is suggested, not shown). 

2. Let Me In
This film isn't really about scaring the viewer, but there are horror elements attached to it. Overall it's not so scary, but the second element of strong characters is most definitely present. Matt Reeves sets his film during winter, which heightens the dread that comes with the tragedy that will soon follow. The lead characters played by Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Moretz (who are both now my favorite child actors) truly connect with the audience, as their friendship feels more real than anything the Twilight series can come up with. Their relationship involving a vampire and a human is sad and heartbreaking at times, but the film at the very least, does not end on a tragic note.

3. The Hills Have Eyes (remake)
Alexandre Aja's film puts a suburban family on a road trip through a desert highway, only for them to get stranded and attacked by mutated people from the nuclear fallout nearby. The survivors have to man up and take matters into their own hands in order to save one of their own. Aja successfully uses the desert as a character of its own, getting the viewer to feel the creepy emptiness of being stuck in the middle of nowhere. Try imagining yourself being in a vast desert with nothing but junk cars and abandoned houses around, and no one to call for help, and you'll get the picture. Aja however has to resort to gore here, but only because the situation calls for it, and it is done extremely well too. The lead characters themselves are believable, being a nice American family that has to be as brutal as their aggressors to fight for their lives.

4. Paranormal Activity
Found footage horror flicks started with The Blair Witch Project, supposedly the best one out there. It's been years since I've seen that one, but I'll talk about the one that I remember most. PA focuses on a young couple who use a camera to record the supernatural goings on in their home. It starts with low level stuff like lights turning on and off by themselves and footsteps being heard, then it moves to huge shit like being dragged out of bed by an invisible force and sleepwalking and doors slamming shut. The ending is something that took me quite some time to get over, and I still have qualms about seeing that again. Director Oren Peli uses a minimal budget to create the tension that is caused by something you can't explain, and has two unknown actors to draw the viewers attention, which is a splendid idea. The couple themselves are not your typical stock horror characters, but regular folks who are spooked and are at a loss of how to react to the situation.

5. The Mist
This film is based on a short story by the great Stephen King, about a group of people stranded in a supermarket after a mysterious mist surrounds them. Hidden in the mist are terrifying creatures that will attack them if they attempt to escape. Frank Darabont is a man who brings out the best in his actors, and tells a great story every time (check out The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile). The characters are made up of scared people who react differently to the situation. On one side, Thomas Jane is a father trying to protect his young son and hopes to get home alive. The other is Marcia Gay Harden, a mentally unstable woman who considers the horror outside as punishment from God and starts convincing everyone that the end is near. There isn't a single actor in this film that doesn't deliver, everyone plays their part truly well. As the film progresses at a slow burn, you'll see that the real fear isn't what's outside, but what the people inside are willing to do to stay alive. It all leads to a exceptionally tragic end, which wasn't how it ended in the book, but King loved Darabont's version so much he didn't mind it one bit.

I do realize that there are probably many more horror films out there that some of you would consider to be better than the ones I've mentioned. Heck, I didn't even list The Exorcist here (though it's more because I haven't seen it in its entirety), which is coined as the scariest film ever made. But these films on my list, and Sinister, have all earned the honour of either scaring me or getting my deepest respect, or both. And these days, that isn't easy to do.