Archives for posts with tag: traditionalist

canyons poster

Paul Schrader (Hardcore; Cat People) delivers a characteristically decadent study with this, his eighteenth film as a director. Scripted by Bret Easton Ellis of Less Than Zero and American Psycho fame, The Canyons is at once tawdry, elegant, and meanspirited, and one of the most notable films of the year.

An extremely frank narrative revolves around repulsively spoiled trust fund wastrel Christian (James Deen), who whiles away his days corrupting the people around him and manipulating them like so many toys. So as to satisfy his father that he has an occupation, he dabbles in movies as a producer, which brings him into indifferent contact with handsome, aspiring actor Ryan (Nolan Gerard Funk). Christian professes to like to keep his openly open marriage with slut wife Tara (Lindsay Lohan) comfortably “loose” and “complicated”, but finds more complication than he probably desires when he discovers that seemingly wholesome Ryan has a previous history with Tara.

A constant doom hangs over The Canyons, its title both geographically and thematically descriptive of this sun-baked but gloomy experience. Punctuating the film are images of the empty marquees and ruined interiors of once-glorious, now abandoned movie theaters serving at once as commentary on an industry and on the characters’ inner desolation. Hollywood’s stories about itself, from Sunset Boulevard, In a Lonely Place, and The Bad and the Beautiful through Day of the Locust, The Player, and Hollywoodland, have tended to be downbeat affairs, and The Canyons continues in that tradition – less gothically or spectacularly, perhaps, than the more grotesque entries in the genre, but no less despairing by any measure.

Classy in execution if totally tacky in subject matter, The Canyons is well worth seeking out. James Deen is perfectly detestable as Christian, Nolan Funk’s male beauty is appropriately vapid, and luscious but fading Lindsay Lohan is exquisitely cast as jaded but sympathetic hussy Tara.

4.5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that The Canyons is:

5. Anti-drug. “Why are you drinking tequila at noon?” The danger of date rape drugs receives mention.

4. Anti-gay. Homosexuality appears as a predatory symptom of personal and cultural decadence.

3. Class-conscious. Inherited, unearned wealth like Christian’s gives rise to degeneracy and arrogance.

2. Technology-skeptical. Y appears as a generation rotten in inception and already gone to seed, at once precocious and empty-headed, and incapable of conversing over drinks without texting or sexting simultaneously. One suspects that Schrader holds handheld and streaming technology to be at least partly to blame for the murder of those stately old movie houses. Technology, too, has contributed to these young ones’ flippancy with regard to sexual morality. “Nobody has a private life anymore” and “We’re all actors, aren’t we?” Identity theft also looms as a threat in the world of online everything.

1. Crypto-traditionalist/anti-slut. For all its blatant depravity, male frontal nudity, and other marks of deceptively casual nihilism, The Canyons views its characters through a detached but quietly tragic, judgmental, and conservative lens. “I’m just sick of the old school shit about fuckin’ propriety, etiquette, and all that crap [. . .] It’s like when you’re at your family dinner on Sunday and everyone’s just lying, lying . . .” Christian explains – and he and his peers suffer to the degree that they deviate from the outmoded norms. Christian’s name speaks for itself as a sarcastic commentary on an utterly godless generation given to hedonistic materialism and soulless egoism. The only thing missing from The Canyons is the compounded case of venereal pestilence these little horrors would (hopefully) catch if they lived as depicted for very long.

Viking Saga

Roving bands of foreigners ravage a seemingly helpless Britain, pillaging, raping its women, and humiliating or liquidating its men. No, this is not Woolwich in May of 2013, but the eighth century, when Norsemen subjected the island to terror even more frightening, at least in its immediate consequences, than that presented by the swarms of uncivilized welfare rats presently infesting jolly old England. Today the invaders are Third World rubbish of the British government’s own invitation, but during the Middle Ages an enemy threatened civilizational cataclysm by military means. Fortunately, back in those distant days, there were Englishmen sufficiently concerned with national survival to resist and struggle for the preservation of their culture.

The awkwardly titled A Viking Saga: The Darkest Day follows monk Hereward (Marc Pickering) as he makes his perilous way, attempting to elude the Vikings and get the Holy Book of Lindisfarne, a relic of great national and spiritual significance, to safekeeping at a northern monastery. During his journey Hereward is joined by the warrior Aethelwulf (Mark Lewis Jones) and Pictish woman Eara (Elen Rhys), who both have things to teach him about his responsibilities to his faith and his people.

The lead performances in this historical allegory, particularly Pickering’s, are passionate; and the mist-shrouded Welsh landscape, in combination with a constant sense of urgency and doom, contribute to A Viking Saga‘s air of earnestness of purpose. The artificial dialogue, always a challenge in bringing to life such a distant period, may strike some viewers as unnatural, and the film does show its budgetary limitations in the paltry smattering of actors purporting to represent a devastating Norse invasion force; but A Viking Saga is, on the whole, a better and more engrossing film than might be expected from its unfortunate title.

3.5 of 5 possible stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that A Viking Saga: The Darkest Day is:

10. Mildly feminist. Eara gets revenge for a rape and helps win the day.

9. Traditionalist/pro-family. “My people have used the land’s gifts for a thousand years,” Eara says. “My mother taught me as her mother taught her.”

8. Drug-ambivalent. A psychoactive plant causes Hereward to have frightening hallucinations, but this also results in his having a spiritually instructive vision.

7. Anti-capitalistic/anti-NWO. The invasion started with coastal trading, an allusion to capitalism and possibly also to the EU as sources of Britain’s degradation and loss of sovereignty.

6. Populist. “The church has seen to grow rich and fat while the country starves. Monks hold little respect in the wilds.”

5. Antiwar. The Vikings’ invasion, like so many wars, is motivated by gold and dreams of empire.

4. Conservative. Pathetic, pale-faced, defeatist victims of plunder, plague, and famine actually suffer from a mental disorder: self-loathing liberalism. “We must embrace the death He brings so we may sit at His side in paradise,” one of these medieval progressives explains.

3. Xenophobic and anti-immigration. A quotation from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles at the film’s outset reads, “The heathens trampled on the bodies of saints in the temple of God, like dung in the streets.”  Black clouds are said to have brought this human pestilence. Alcuin of York “was victorious over the darkness of his time. We shall be victorious over the darkness that threatens to engulf our time.” (Italics added)  Unfortunately, trends today in the UK and Europe, with Islam the continent’s fastest-growing religion and soon to be the dominant faith in Britain, indicate that these storm clouds of the present will not be so handily dissipated.

2. Militantly Christian. A Viking Saga opens with naked monks, beaten and humiliated by Vikings, cringing, crying, and imploring God on a beach after being kicked out of their monastery. These are flabby, undignified men, unsuited to the task of protecting the faith. (“We have seen the bravery of the Saxons here. Men who would stain their church with the stench of their own piss rather than fight.”) “There are many ways to serve Christ, boy,” Aethelwulf tells Hereward. Lifting his sword, he asks, “Does it not resemble the cross?” “Become my wrath,” Christ (Gerald Tyler) says in a vision.

1. Nationalistic. “The book isn’t everything.” The violent defense of the island and nation comes even before Christ’s teachings. “Without their book, this nation would fall,” a Viking leader observes. The perpetuation of Christianity, then, is but a means to the survival of a tribal and racial identity. “The people of England are as precious as the Word.” Jesus is more than once called the “white Christ”.

Those attracted by top-billed Danny Trejo, who plays a priest named Father Connely [sic], will be disappointed to learn that the haggard actor dies in the opening scene of this oddball Christian horror film. Likewise, Eric Roberts, the other celebrity name in the cast, has only a smallish role as the sinister Father Tollman. Whether or not The Cloth offers any other inducements will be a matter mainly of the individual viewer’s interest in religion, exorcism, and copious low-grade CGI.

Following the deaths of his parents and his disillusionment at the acquittal of a murderous drunk driver, young Jason (Kyler Willett) would be content to spend his life in hedonistic abandon, clubbing, drinking, and bagging chicks; but Father Diekman (Lassiter Holmes) has other plans for the lad. Diekman belongs to a secret order of special ops clergy, The Cloth, that wages Hellboyish war on the unholy through exorcism and spiritualized gunplay. Jason, though reluctant to join at first, becomes a convert when confronted with demons firsthand. Soon, with the salutary example of sexy but modest Laurel (Perla Rodriguez) and gunsmith Helix (Cameron White) to guide him, Jason is utilizing a silly array of Christian weaponry like holy water grenades, armor forged from materials in the Ark of the Covenant, and corny CGI firepower to dispatch the Devil’s minions.

Kyler Willett is handsome and likable enough as smart aleck hero Jason, but Lassiter Holmes, true to his name, tends rather too much toward lassitude as the boring Father Diekman, an uninspiring mentor to say the least. Rodriguez gets a lot of mileage from coyly brushing the hair from her eyes, and White lends just the right mix of class and kitsch with his English accent and tacky Christian t-shirts that say things like, “Exorcise regularly.” The dialogue does sometimes leave these actors in the lurch, however, and never rises above the mildly amusing level of, “That’s holy water – bitch.”

More damaging than any shortcomings of casting, however, are the filmmakers’ insistence on bringing to the screen effects-reliant phantasmagorias that are simply beyond the means of such a limited budget. The action sequences, too, are sometimes overly abrupt and insufficiently covered. The Cloth, consequently, is about as scary as the cover of the Louvin Brothers’ album Satan Is Real. Those interested in studying or actualizing the cavernous blackness of the Catholic imagination would do better to turn to the philosophical horrors of William Peter Blatty, The Ninth Configuration and Exorcist III, which rely on depth of atmosphere and the weight of ideas rather than special effects to keep audiences alert and entertained.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that The Cloth is:

11. Anti-state. As an unjust court decision demonstrates, justice is to be had not through secular law, but through the arms of a militant Church.

10. Anti-capitalistic. A priest taking diabolical bribes is unwilling to assist a poor parishioner whose contribution is understandably small. This venal villain is repaid handsomely when coins pour from his mouth in a torrent.

9. Pro-life. Jason’s father, Diekman relates, resisted the counsel to “terminate” Laurel’s life when she was possessed and instead chose to see the potential for good in her.

8. Anti-drug. Drinking and driving means accidents. Jason, a drinker at the beginning of the film, later fills his hip flask with holy water. The Devil’s possessed snort lines of cocaine.

7. Multiculturalist. Anglos and Hispanics work together more than once. “The very basis of our beliefs stems from the arrival of the Apostles from such places as Jerusalem, Africa, and even Asia.” (cf. no. 3)

6. Pro-gun. One gun owner standing in the way of the Cloth’s mission brandishes his weapon threateningly, but firearms are for the most part represented positively as indispensable implements of the Lord’s work.

5. Miscegenation-ambivalent. Jason and white-enough Hispanic cutie Laurel walk away hand-in-hand at the end, but interracial pairings of spicier stuff are strictly the province of the Devil.

4. Anti-slut/anti-gay. Good girl Laurel represents sexual modesty charmingly. Laurel, initially rejecting Jason’s advances, tells him, “My beliefs come before my own personal desires.” Fornicators are more than once destroyed by demonic power or disfigured. Cohabitation is also discouraged, as Jason’s devilish ex-girlfriend leaves an odor of sulfur in his apartment. The Devil’s hos, naturally, are promiscuous lesbos. The Cloth would also appear to frown on tattoos.

3. Racist! Clearly self-loathing black writer-director Justin Price casts himself as the demon Kasdeyah, Satan’s emissary on Earth. Minorities are disproportionately represented among the possessed (cf. no. 7).

2. Traditionalist/pro-family. Jason, though he has long resented and misunderstood his father, comes to follow in his footsteps both professionally and spiritually.

1. Christian and specifically Catholic. Latin mumbo jumbo works! Laurel, explaining away the occasional bad apple in the clergy, claims, “There’s no such thing as corruption in the Church, Jason. The only Church that has ever existed lies within.”

Part I of The Filthy Films of Adam Sandler in Ideological Content Analysis: A Cranko-Politico-Critical Retrospective of the Institute for Advanced Sandler Studies

AdamSandler

A relatively restrained Adam Sandler stars as Robbie Hart, a man who a few years previously (to The Wedding Singer‘s retro present, 1985) dreamed of rock renown, but has settled into a less than high-rolling existence as a schmaltzy performer at weddings and currently lives in his sister’s basement.  With his own marriage around the corner, however, things appear to be going well for the personable entertainer – that is, until his shallow fiancee (Angela Featherstone) stands him up on their wedding day, sending him into emotional doldrums that threaten his qualifications and livelihood as a mood-enhancer and spirit-lifter for hire at nuptials.  Fortunately, Robbie’s outlook brightens when he befriends pretty waitress Julia Sullivan (cuddly Drew Barrymore); the only problem is that Julia, while clearly perfect for Robbie, is instead engaged to sleazy, self-absorbed womanizer Glenn (Matthew Glave).

One of the top romantic comedies of 1998, The Wedding Singer  deservedly charmed its way into audiences’ hearts as the perfect date movie, irresistibly sweet for the girls but funny and occasionally gross for the guys.  Sandler’s magic soft-spoken chemistry with Barrymore is uncanny and ought to have spawned more than a mere two films featuring the pair.  This one at least stands as a monument to what Sandler can do with (mostly) tasteful comic material, marred only here and there by hopelessly crude, cheap laughs at the expense of foul-mouthed and feel-copping elderly people.  Brief, atrocious bits like the notorious rapping granny can be forgiven in the light of everything The Wedding Singer does with simple, economically heartwarming panache.

4 out of 5 stars.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that The Wedding Singer, in addition to being a superlative romantic comedy, is:

7. Pro-gay.  In one of The Wedding Singer‘s several moments of ass-grabbery, two men are seen slow-dancing, holding each other by the glutei maximi.  Robbie’s womanish bandmate and Culture Club aficionado George (Alexis Arquette) is a grotesque but endearing figure.

6. Anti-drug, in the fine 80s tradition.  More than one character vomits after drinking alcohol.  Robbie only turns to Sneaky Pete out of despair, and wakes up after his night of imbibing in a compromising position.  Neither he nor Julia is a habitual drinker.

5. Anti-materialistic/anti-capitalistic.  Robbie makes an abortive attempt at yuppiedom to compete with Glenn, but finds himself unprepared for the gray suit-and-tie existence.  As a representative of the financial world, Glenn is naturally a complete scumbag.

4. Anti-slut.  Julia objects to the idea of tongue-kissing at her wedding, insisting that at the most there might be a little conservative “church tongue”.

3. Traditionalist/pro-family.  A point of contention between Robbie and his ex-fiancee is his intention to raise a family in his hometown.  He maintains close relations with his surviving family members.

2. Pro-miscegenation.  The entire plot revolves around the cutely inevitable union of Robbie, an undisguised Jew, and flaxen-haired, cherub-cheeked Julia.  Also, Hart’s Jewishness in conjunction with his Anglo-Saxon surname suggest a mixed ancestry.  Two extras, a black man and a white woman, are seen entering a club together.

1. Pro-marriage.  A romantic comedy titled The Wedding Singer could hardly be otherwise.  Robbie’s brother-in-law confides that passion can fade after years of mundane married life, but an elderly couple celebrating their anniversary demonstrate that marriages can also endure.

This urban thriller-melodrama (also released under the title Guardian of Eden) serves as an African-American contribution to the Fatal Attraction-inspired subgenre of films depicting the frightening consequences of a married man’s infidelity with what turns out to be a mentally unhinged seductress.  In the case of The Good Wifey, personally and financially successful protagonist Michael Raynar (David Ramsay) – a man so successful, in fact, that he actually lives in a castle (!) – is at first the aggressor in the relationship after being encouraged by his less scrupulous buddies in a bar; but seemingly casual pick-up Kimmy (Tangi Miller) clearly has more than a one-night stand in mind when she shows up unannounced at Michael’s office for an impromptu lunch date.  Michael sends Kimmy away and considers the matter settled, unaware that his life as he has known it up to now with wife and mother-to-be Clarke (Persia White) is already over.

To divulge more of the story would undermine the fun of this entertainingly lurid low-budget potboiler’s plot, which, however, is also brought to life and made memorable by its commendable cast.  Ramsay and Miller are solid and believable in the leads, but supporting player Chico Benymon steals the show as Michael’s sleazy friend Rahim, a devoted jerk given to making blunt remarks like, “You be lookin’ like shit” – or, in recommending that Michael seek sexual healing to help dissipate his malaise: “Pop that ass like a pimple.”  While other characters may occasionally seem overly formal as scripted, the dialogue is reliably naturalistic whenever Rahim puts in an appearance, as when he observes, half-censoriously, half-approvingly, that Michael “hit it raw” (i.e., had unprotected sex).  Akuyoe Graham’s performance as Kimmy’s mother will have viewers uncertain whether to fear her or fear for her, and Sam Scarber is also notable as her appalling man Bill.

3 out of 5 stars.  Ideological Content Analysis indicates that The Good Wifey is:

3. Realistic/self-scrutinizing.  “Everybody knows I’m saved,” the unsavory Bill says, drink in hand, indicating that mere profession of faith falls far short of true salvation.

2. Anti-slut.  After viewing The Good Wifey, any male audience members weak in flesh should be content to keep their trousers firmly buttoned for good.

1. Christian/pro-family/traditionalist.  Notwithstanding the film’s abundance of salacious subject matter and nasty talk, the fact remains that Michael and others suffer in proportion to their deviation from traditional family values.  Had the character stuck to the path of righteousness all along and been faithful, he would have remained untouchable, immune to the infernal machinery of sin.  He does, however, provide a positive model to the extent that he accepts his responsibility as a father.

Arnold Schwarzenegger has substandard luck with would-be blockbusters titled Last.  1993’s Last Action Hero, released a mere two years after the megahit Terminator 2: Judgment Day, is widely regarded as marking not only the end of Schwarzenegger’s reign at the box office and in audiences’ hearts and minds, but the demise of the larger-than-life 80s action film itself.  Now, in 2013, comes The Last Stand, a lively outing that ought to mark the muscleman’s triumphant return to action adoration, but which, alas, as it turns out, is just another relative flop.

Combining elements of High Noon and Vanishing Point, The Last Stand, with its southwestern flavor, brings Schwarzenegger full-circle in a way, considering that one of his earliest roles was in the western comedy The Villain.  Here Schwarzenegger is Ray Owens (sic), Sheriff of Sommerton County, Arizona, on America’s southern border.  His sleepy rural community is about to get more than its usual share of excitement when escaped drug cartel kingpin Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) hatches a plan to use Owens’s own unsuspecting town of Sommerton Junction as the end point of a sure-fire escape route to Mexico.  Making matters more difficult for federal and local authorities is the fact that Cortez is driving a futuristic and seemingly unstoppable thousand-horsepower Corvette.

The Last Stand is an unapologetically lightweight, nostalgic, high-testosterone crowd-pleaser, but no less pleasing for its lack of originality or depth.  Lukewarm box office notwithstanding, an Arnold Schwarzenegger gunplay-and-explosions vehicle – even a second-tier, self-consciously geriatric one – is something of a national treasure.  Schwarzenegger’s acting gives little evidence of having improved during his years in government, and may in fact have gotten worse; but nothing can mitigate the thrill of seeing this man in heroic action.

While he probably deserves a more iconic or physically imposing foe than lanky Eduardo Noriega or weird Peter Stormare (winner of this year’s Most Awkward American Accent Award), the supporting cast does much to enhance Schwarzenegger’s presence through humorous contrasts.  Luis Guzman and Johnny Knoxville are especially noteworthy in the comic relief department, and Forest Whitaker turns in an intensely invested performance as harried G-Man John Bannister.  The only thing The Last Stand may be missing is Schwarzenegger’s leading lady, as deputy Jaimie Alexander is too young to be the appropriate recipient of anything but his paternal affection.

4.5 stars.  Ideological Content Analysis indicates that The Last Stand is:

6. Anti-drug.  Drug dealers, in the finest tradition of 80s action films, are the bad guys.

5. Pro-military.  An Iraq veteran ex-Marine is a key figure in the hometown defense.

4. Immigration-ambivalent.  Americans are reminded of their perilously porous border with Mexico when Cortez points out the irony of Owens trying to prevent him from returning to his own country when 12,000 Mexicans cross in the opposite direction every day.  “You make us immigrants look bad,” Owens tells Cortez.  It is unclear whether by saying “us immigrants” he identifies with the 12,000 mentioned by Cortez or only with the law-abiding variety.

3. Multiculturalist.  The Last Stand celebrates the contributions to law enforcement of blacks, Hispanics, women, Austrians, Asians, and dweebs.  Cortez, though the villain of the piece, represents Mexicans positively as a criminal mastermind and expert race car driver.

2. Pro-liberty/pro-gun.  Eccentric gun collector Lewis Dinkum (Johnny Knoxville) provides the firepower that allows the sheriff and his deputies to defend themselves against Cortez’s private army.  Notably, Dinkum offers a very useful “Nazi killer” machine gun he has kept in working order against the wishes of the government.  Elderly citizen Mrs. Salazar (Lois Geary) picks off one of Cortez’s mercenaries with her personal firearm.  Farmer Harry Dean Stanton is also admirable in attempting to defend his property with a shotgun.

1. Localist/traditionalist.  Sommerton Junction is a friendly, wholesome, peaceful place rather than the usual rustic nest of hateful Hollywood hicks.  FBI agent John Bannister underestimates the competence of the local sheriff’s department (significantly, an Arizona sheriff’s department).  He is humbled when Owens does his job for him and when the FBI is found to have been compromised by internal corruption.

Set aboard a melodrama-plagued pleasure cruise, writer-director Je’Caryous Johnson’s soulful examination of love among African-American couples and singles benefits in energy from being a filmed production of a live play as opposed to a conventional film.  Johnson is a talented jokester with a heart and creates compelling characters brought to vibrant life by an emotionally present and engagingly boisterous all-black cast.  Think Neil Simon keepin’ it real.

A neurotic tension and sense of panic constantly inform Love Overboard, with Johnson portraying African-Americans as a people ever prey to the supernatural forces in their lives, their bodies the eternal, intensely contested battleground of spiritual warfare as they navigate between their fear of God and obsession with sexual satisfaction.  Two types of entity, appropriately, are apostrophized in Love Overboard: Jesus Christ and the male sexual organ.  Love Overboard gets so overheated at times, with a man and woman apparently unable to stop themselves from flying into each other’s arms and grinding in public in one instance, that it starts to make Three’s Company look like I Married Joan.  “Y’all think this is a leg I’m standin’ on, dontcha?  I gotta take my shoe off every time I go pee.”

Running the gamut from shockingly crude to genuinely touching, Love Overboard front-loads most of the bawdy humor and concentrates in its second and third acts on depicting in very human terms people fraught with insecurities and struggling seriously with their relationships, their values, and faith.  The subject of marriage especially frightens and frustrates everyone on the ship.  Those who already are married wonder if staying together is worth the trouble; those unmarried fear the commitment.  Can healthy, excitingly black sex thrive within the constraining cage of a monogamous matrimony?

The ensemble cast is consistently praiseworthy in imbuing the various threads of the story with zany life.  Everyone involved in the production is either highly expressive in speech or song or excels at physical comedy.  Zacardi Cortez, who plays Big Daddy, has the most affecting musical moment; while Rhona Bennett and Tammy Townsend are probably most tender among the women as they hold their end of the line in this floating battle of the sexes.  Je’Caryous Johnson’s humor and humanity as it comes across in his writing probably has the best claim to top billing, however.  Recommended without reservation.  4.5 of 5 possible stars.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Love Overboard is guaranteed fun and:

6. Anti-gay.  An opening monologue mocks San Francisco Christians.

5. Black Uber Alles.  Racial solidarity seems to be of importance.  Oprah’s book recommendations are valued.  “You rollin’ with Obama?” a woman asks, hearing that one of the men works for the Department of Homeland Security.  Women want a man like Obama: “fine”, “intelligent”, and “able to protect me.”  “Chocolate’s out now that Barack is in,” a lighter-skinned man teases a darker one.  Characters enjoy their own and others’ variations of flavor and blackness.

4. Capitalist.  Despite the suggested endorsement of President Obama, the characters give every evidence of not buying into his demagogic desecration of the American dream.  These are people who, rather than playing the victim and begging for coddling by the welfare state, have succeeded or failed according to their own talents and decisions.  One runs a car dealership; another is a stripper; all work for a living or aim to do so.  “Life is what you make it,” Russell (Khalil Kain) observes; or, “Take yo ass to work,” as Johnson puts it bluntly elsewhere in his screenplay.

4. Anti-miscegenation.  Vianessa Castanos warrants special mention for her role as the Latin temptress who threatens black marital stability and wins a unique award from Ideological Content Analysis for displaying the GREATEST CLEAVAGE IN THE HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE.

3. Traditionalist/pro-family.  “This is a family cruise,” the opening monologue explains, raunchy content notwithstanding.  A pregnant woman refrains from drinking and wants her child to have a good man for a father.  One character does, however, reveal herself to have been horribly wronged by a family member.

2. Christian.  Buck wild though they may long to get, these are people with a fear of God.  “The body according to the Word should be governed by modesty,” pious Lea (Rhona Bennett) reminds herself.

1. Pro-marriage.  Divorce is discouraged.  Couples having troubles should work it out for themselves and for their children’s sake.   The “hit it and quit it” lone wolf mentality loses its appeal with maturity.

Writer-director Scott Derrickson and his collaborators on Sinister clearly graduated summa cum laude from the Jump-Scare School of Hollywood Horror, because this is a movie that, if nothing else, could probably give even a healthly person a heart attack.  Ethan Hawke plays Ellison Oswalt, a debt-burdened true crime writer who, hoping to do some salacious research for a tacky comeback book, and without warning his family about their new home’s sordid history, has moved them into a creepy house where the last occupants were ritualistically murdered.  Oswalt’s life turns scary fast when he discovers a box of old snuff footage in the attic.

The murders documented in the home movies appear to be unrelated until Oswalt discovers that each reel contains a fleeting glimpse of a mysterious, pale-faced Insane Clown Posse reject – who, an expert professor informs him, is Bughuul, an ancient Babylonian deity and devourer of children’s souls who lives in his images and paraphernalia.  Before long the move into the new house has the children behaving bizarrely, with the boy popping shirtless out of a cardboard box like a little Anthony Kiedis and screaming, for instance, and the daughter hanging around with a troupe of ghostly junior juggaloes.

The house, which functions to satisfy Oswalt’s selfishness, is his unsavory headspace given architectural form, enveloping and victimizing his family, with all their demonic troubles directly traceable to his poor decisions, materialistic irreligion, and careless self-absorption.  In line with God’s commandment against graven images, Sinister acts (barely) subtextually as a morality tale and a warning to parents to consider their children’s cultural diet as carefully as the food they eat.  In other words, let them read too many comic books, listen to death metal and hip-hop, watch boob-jiggling music videos – or, in short, take them to see one too many gruesome horror movies like Sinister, and you might have a burgeoning brood of Beelzebub-worshipping serial killers on your hands.  Sinister, then, is that rare bat: the self-loathing horror film.

A strong Ethan Hawke performance anchors and energizes Sinister, which, if not for his convincing presence in the lead, would be a significantly less effective film.  The script is adequate; but, with the exception of Ellison Oswalt, offers few if any other fully developed characters.  Oswalt’s wife, played by Juliet Rylance, is less a human being than a personification of her moral position, and the children have no purpose apart from glaring, looking sickly, and trying their best to seem to be spooky instead of just cute kids.  The precocious Michael Hall D’Addario, who was so charming in People Like Us earlier this year, is particularly underutilized here.  Not a bad show overall, though, and commendable for helping to raise public awareness about the epidemic menace posed by Pennsylvania attic scorpions, Sinister gets 3.5 of 5 stars for Hawke and the jumps.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Sinister is:

4. Anti-drug.  Oswalt turns to whiskey, which can’t solve his problems.  The drink for edifying discussion is coffee – which, however, also proves ultimately deceptive.

3. Pro-police – or, in this case, the sheriff and his deputies.  The sheriff at first appears to play an antagonistic role when the Oswalts move into his town; but his unwelcoming demeanor and suggestion that they leave turns out to have been a piece of wisdom that could have prevented trouble.  The ostensibly naive “Deputy So-and-So” proves to be smarter and more adept than he at first appears.  He’s a neighborly, God-fearing man, though perhaps a little corny, and brings a reassuring light and warmth to his few scenes.

2. Christian/traditionalist.  Oswalt’s lack of faith has endangered his family.  Paganism, far from being something harmlessly trendy, contains demonic currents that put children at risk.  Oswalt’s condescending citified attitude toward what he expects will be the stereotypically ignorant and belligerent old rural sheriff and Fife-like deputy is ill-advised, and his sophisticated certainty and atheism are shaken and refuted by what he experiences.

1. Pro-family.  What families really require, Sinister argues, is responsible fathers more concerned with their children’s welfare than with satisfying their own selfish whims.

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