Warning: The following blog is almost 100% spoilers.
Has anyone else noticed how demons have become a big thing in horror movies lately? Seems that if something spooky is going on some place, you can bet the (haunted) farm demons are to blame. The zombie plague in the Rec. movies? Demons. The poltergeist shenanigans in the Paranormal Activity movies? Demons. The Poltergeist-rip-off shenanigans in Insidious? A demon who looks like a Muppet Show version of Darth Maul.
So it was with some disappointment and no surprise whatsoever I learned (via a trailer that gives away much of the plot) that the gruesome family murders in the horror movie Sinister are the work of a demon called Bughuul.
Don’t get me wrong. I like demons as much as the next man. I’ve written something recently in which “demons done it”. I just think that while they can be great at conjuring up ideas of something mysterious, malevolent and exotic, there’s a lot to be said for ambiguity. In the case of Sinister, leaving the admittedly-very-creepy-looking villain unnamed and more mysterious would have improved the film enormously. In it, we see a number of children’s drawings featuring him, in which he’s named “Mr Boogie”. Now, personally, I find the name “Mr Boogie” infinitely scarier than the fantastical Bughuul. And I could have done without the cod-mythology explaining his schemes. Knowing that he’s some kind of Pagan Pied-Piper-meets-Slipknot-tribute-act, while not exactly diminishing the threat, does leave you thinking, “So what?”
It also left me with a couple of questions for the sinister one himself. Like:
1) What’s with the Super 8 camera?
Okay, so I get that the whole plot revolves around “true crime” author Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) discovering some gruesome Super 8 movies in the attic of his new house, and that (ULTIMATE SPOILER KLAXON) the movies are shot by the kids who murdered their own families, but does this mean the camera belongs to Bughuul? If so, where did he get it from? And I can’t imagine many kids these days knowing their way around a Super 8 camera (unlike the kids in Super 8, which had to be set in 1979 for that particular plot device to even work), so does Bughuul give them a quick tutorial before setting them off on their killing spree?
“No, Ashley. You have to focus it. Focus. Focus. No, see, if you do that it’ll be blurry. Here. Give me the goddamn camera. Jesus… Kids.”
2) Doesn’t the whole “Mr Boogie” thing piss you off?
When the kids make their drawings of “Mr Boogie”, it’s implied that they’re under Bughuul’s spell. So wouldn’t he at least insist they get his name right?
“It’s Bughuul, damn it. Bughuul. B-U-G-H-U-U-L. For fuck’s sake. It doesn’t even sound anything like Boogie. Where the hell did you get Boogie from?”
3) Why go to all that bother in the first place?
So his raison d’etre is that he captures children’s souls by making them slaughter their families, or he captures their souls so they’ll slaughter their families (it’s not very clear) and that’s cool. You know, each to his own. But why then spend so much time and energy winding up the dad by leaving some creepy films for him to watch, and then appearing in each film? Why not cut to the chase? And don’t give me “It’s because he’s a sadist and enjoys toying with his victims”. If that’s the case, there are way spookier and more practical things he could have done to freak out Ethan Hawke, and none of them would involve the maintenance of an almost obsolete piece of camera equipment. I mean, where the hell does he even get the parts from?
Now, of course, you could ask similar questions of just about any horror movie, but what the successful ones do is obey their own internal logic, even if it bears little resemblance with real world logic.
And if they can’t obey that logic, they at least have the decency to scare you so much you don’t start asking silly questions. Sadly, though it starts very promisingly, and though the cast are all much, much better than the film deserves (James Ransone, in particular, stands out as a geeky sheriff’s deputy), Sinister just isn’t scary enough, and ends with very few shocks and even fewer surprises.
David Llewellyn is the author of six novels, most recently Ibrahim & Reenie, which you can buy here.