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Face-Off: Insidious vs. Sinister

01.03.2018by: Matt Rooney
Welcome back, seekers of the profane! Last session we covered the jaunty musicals LA LA LAND and MOULIN ROUGE, so as a means to celebrate the release of THE GREATEST SHOWMAN and to send the year off with some razzle-dazzle. Given how 2016 and 2017 were collective dumpster fires, 2018 could either turn the tides or descend the world into total chaos. I'm hoping for the former, but to prepare you for potential terror we will dig into two of the more popular horror films of the last decade: INSIDIOUS and SINISTER .

This contest also comes in celebration of this Friday's release of INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY, the fourth installment of the successful horror franchise. The series began with humble roots, with the first film earning almost $100 million worldwide off a $1 million budget, giving Blumhouse a massive hit in its younger days and giving the haunted house genre a much-needed boost. SINISTER followed the next year and was met with similar success, with genre fans praising the genuinely evil atmosphere of the film and introducing the world to a new demon baddie in Bughuul.

This is a battle of the low-budget, haunted house horror flicks, where little kids are tortured by supernatural forces and where the endings left things on grim notes. Yeah, welcome to 2018. Shall we begin?

THE ENSEMBLE
Patrick Wilson as Josh Lambert
Rose Byrne as Renai Lambert
Ty Simpkins as Dalton Lambert
Lin Shaye as Elise Rainier
Leigh Whannell as Specs
Angus Sampson as Tucker
Barbara Hershey as Lorraine Lambert
with Phillip Friedman as Old Woman
and Joseph Bishara as Lipstick-Face Demon
Ethan Hawke as Ellison Oswalt
Juliet Rylance as Tracy Oswalt
Fred Thompson as Sheriff
Clare Foley as Ashley
Michael Hall D'Addario as Trevor
Nicholas King as Bughuul
DIRECTOR
Aside from SAW, James Wan hadn't exactly done much notable work in the horror genre. There was the forgettable DEAD SILENCE and the DEATH WISH-style DEATH SENTENCE with Kevin Bacon, but the man didn't really start making a name for himself until INSIDIOUS. Wan pulled out all the stops and had a blast with the haunted house genre. There's a lot being thrown around in this movie, and Wan embraces it by jumping right in and finding creepy ways of exploring the scares. There's the scene with the demon dude standing by the baby's crib, veiled by a...veil; there's the ghost guy whispering over the baby monitor; the visual terror of Lipstick-Face and; throwing the terrifying old woman at us right from the start. He gets a little over-the-top in the final act, as his sensibilities for creepy-looking people get the better of him, robbing the movie of tension and diving into the odd and strange. But we can credit INSIDIOUS as the movie where Wan really started to embrace his gut and show some fearlessness.
While a lot of mainstream horror movies nowadays are trying to have more fun and explore inventive ways to scare the masses, Scott Derrickson wanted to do something much more serious with SINISTER. Derrickson keeps the lighting (shout out to cinematographer Christopher Norr) extremely dark, with nothing but the lamps and small lighting fixtures to brighten the way. This sells the dark tone of the story in a very malicious way and draws attention to the fact this is a study of one man's obsession with retaining his former glory, even if it puts everyone around him at risk. Derrickson keeps the story tight, stages the conversations between Hawke and Rylance like a dramatic play, and though he throws a few jump scares out there, never shies away from the heavy elements. In the end, Derrickson crafted what is, essentially, an evil f**king movie.
STORY/SCRIPT

A perfect, cookie-cutter family moves into a new home, exhibiting the normal behavior of the typical American family trying to have it all. So sweet. But after the son, Dalton, has an accident, and later falls into a coma, their perfect life starts goes through crazy twists and turns as they start to experience visits from ghostly beings. They soon learn this is because Dalton's weak body is being pursued by demons of another realm, who want to inhabit his body for *ahem* insidious reasons. As the family sees worse and worse beings come into their life they have to seek the help of medium Elise Rainier, who will help them get their son back before it's too late. Dun, dun, dun!

The script jumps right into the scares, putting Dalton into the coma early and letting the ghostly events come into the home. The story becomes very boilerplate, as the family tries to defeat the supernatural occurrences going on in their house. Things get more weird than creepy by the end, as the hectic events stop the movie from being eerie, but you have to hand it to writer Leigh Whannell and Wan for trying to do nothing but craft a fun haunted house flick.

Ellison Oswalt, a true crime author who is living in the shadow of a massive best-seller, tries to recapture his fame by moving his family into a new home and exploring a grisly crime that occurred there. In the process he stumbles onto something much more *ahem* sinister, leading him to discover a series of films depicting horrific murders. Out of these films comes Bughuul, an evil deity who eats the souls of children. As he descends into the mystery he uncovers more terrible crimes but refuses to turn back in hopes of writing the next hit.

The script puts all the focus on Ellison and his exploration of the crime, and in itself becomes a terrifying true crime story. It wrings more terror out of the crimes and the lingering presence of Bughuul than on jump scares (which don't work well when they happen). There are also some compelling characters in Ellison and his wife Tracy, which says a lot when talking about mainstream horror movies.

NOTABLE BITS & LINES

A Walk Through the House at Night

A Perfect Family

Dalton's Attic Experience

Dalton in a Coma

Voices on the Baby Monitor

Demon by the Babies Bed

House Alarm

Renai Attacked

New Home

Tip-Toe Through the Gardens/Little Dutch Boy

Lip-Stick Face Demon

Enter Elise

The Ritual

Chaos in Dalton's Room

Entering The Further

Fighting the Demons

Dalton Comes Back

The Old Woman Wins

A Family Hanging

Moving In

Beginning the Research/The First Film

Something in the House? Nah, Just Ashley

Film 2: Barbeque

What's in the Box?!

Film 3: Pool Party

Bughuul

Film 4: Sleepy Time

Activity in the House

The Box Lid

Searching for Bughuul in the Films

Something in the Backyard

Film 5

Ghost Kids

Ellison and Tracy's Arguement

Viewing Party in the Attic

Burning the Films

Learning the Truth

One Final Film

SHEER TERROR
The majority of the scares in INSIDIOUS are very well-crafted and come about as often as you could want. This is probably because having so many creepy characters in play and the eerie premise of them being after the kid's body and soul allows for the horror to come from so many different angles. While some other movies try to start slow, INSIDIOUS always goes for the big scare, and it can really get the adrenaline pumping...before it gets too silly that is.
SINISTER is more eerie than all-out scary, crafting a palpable, unsettling atmosphere over big scares. Bughuul brings some genuinely freaky scares into the film, with his hollow eyes and wet hair. When the movie does try and give off some jump scares they're usually pretty standard, and the payoff is often pretty meh. The movie is all about mood, and you're more likely to finish the movie with a cold, almost violated sensation...which is pretty cool.
HAUNTING MUSIC
Like some of the freakiest scenes, INSIDIOUS' music from Joseph Bishara (also the Lipstick-Face demon) is meant to elicit big scares from the audience with invasive, forceful compositions that put an exclamation point on the atmosphere. We hear this early on when, during the opening scene with the old woman, there's an almost violent violin (cello?) sound that screeches up and down like nails on a chalkboard. Then there's powerful use of the piano, given a thudding sound to emphasize certain scares. The music certainly leaves an impact when paired with certain scenes, making more low key scares much more effective. In terms of modern horror, INSIDIOUS boasts an impressive score.
The atmosphere is haunting and the story is engaging, but what makes SINISTER such a standout is the absolutely evil music by Christopher Young. Featuring little details like record scratches and what sound like hollow, drawn-out vocal work match perfectly with the murder films, and give them a malevolent vibe. Some of the music borrowed tracks from Norwegian black metal music, which is pretty hardcore, and allows for the score to stand out as a cut above typical horror soundtracks. If there's anything that drives home how demented this film can be, it's the music.
DEMON BADDIES
INSIDIOUS' story is all about this other dimension filled with ghostly figures called The Further, the baddies of which spill into the real world. From the old woman, to the dude in the trench coat, and all the way to ol' Lipstick-Face there's no shortage of demon creepies to terrorize this family and give you nightmares. Not all the baddies are a scary sell, with several plain, white-faced specters not having the same kind of impact as the more malevolent figures. This is because some of the more dominant figures are filmed in a more horrifying way and are given more weight, whereas some figures are just thrown at the scene for the sake of strangeness or a brief jump scare. Not that twin females in Victorian garb staring at you from around a corner isn't scary.
Bughuul makes for a suitably nightmarish demon figure, from his jet black hair, and absolutely nightmarish facial features. But he's more effective as the ominous figure in lingering in the murder films than as a villain in the flesh. From a distance and in the background, he's a totally evil figure that gives the murders a malicious figurehead. Up close, though, he just looks like an extra in a Slipknot video. Creepy, yes, but with little context, he begins to lose some of his horrificness.
AWARDS, PRAISE & MONEY
Golden Schmoes:
    Nominated:
    Best Horror Movie
Praise Money:
    $54 million domestic ($97 million global)
Golden Schmoes:
    Nominated:
    Best Horror Movie
Praise Money:
    $48 million domestic ($77 million global)
SINISTER

This was a close one, and a case could be made for INSIDIOUS to get the win, but it depends entirely on what you find more effective in terms of horror. INSIDIOUS is no doubt a more enjoyable, late-night flick to watch with a date who gets jumpy with horror flicks. There are creepier demons, bigger jolts and great music to accompany those scares. But the scares aren't always effective, the final act is undoubtedly rocky and ventures into the silly. SINISTER, though not as consistently scary in the traditional ways, eeks out the win for being a superior made film. The cinematography, direction and music are on point, and it's all anchored by a winning performance from Ethan Hawke. This is an incredibly unsettling film that establishes a brutal tone from the first frame and never lets up, and when it comes to mainstream horror, is completely in its own league. The cliches are certainly there, and like INSIDIOUS, can get a little silly with the ghost kids. But the atmosphere is always tense and palpable, and Ellion's descent into the mystery plays like supernatural, true crime thriller. Just thinking about those murder films gives me the willies.

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