Whenever The Duchess is out of town I do three things: I order a palette of cheeses, I make sure I have several gallons of grain alcohol on hand, and I watch awful movies. The cheese and the alcohol are for sustenance. The movies are to scratch the itch I have for awesome terribleness, the kind you can only get from low-rent horror movies and insane Sci-Fi epics. On a tangential note, my spellcheck is not complaining about “terribleness” which just feels wrong. Really, that’s a word? Holy shit.
Just recently I watched Sinister, unexpectedly starring Ethan Hawke. Hard to believe there was once a time when Hawke was considered a sex symbol and something of a rising star in Hollywood, though he does have a natural presence on screen still, and as he ages out of his epic self-regard phase he might have a future. To see him in a lowball horror flick is kind of startling, though, but just like his character in the film he’s got bills to pay, I assume. His character is a writer, but at least the movie avoids many of the odious writer clichés that other films give in to: While it’s imagined that his first books was massive bestseller and that he’s still living off of those proceeds, he’s also a writer who’s second and third books were failures and he’s got one last option book to try and turn the ship around. And he can’t afford the mortgage on his big house any more. So it’s slightly more realistic than your average movie when it comes to writers.
Anyway, I’m not here to really complain about that. Nor am I here to review the film, except to say that it was entertaining, slightly more interesting and well-done than most, and if it was riddled with boring pop-ups and cheesy horror-esque moments, the Super 8 home movies of family mass murders were incredibly frightening, and the whole film does manage to generate an atmosphere of dread that few horror films manage. Hawke’s pretty good in it, and the sound editor should have won an Oscar.
But I’m not here to praise Sinister. I’m here to complain about the two most grating movie stupid clichés currently in my wheelhouse: The Idiot Note and The Anti-Light Sleeper.
The Idiot Note
Here’s the scene – you’ve seen it. Character is researching something. A crime, let’s say — a murder. Character takes out a crisp legal pad and a nice pen, and starts reading/watching/examining something. Then they pause to jot a note. What do they write? WHO IS THE MURDERER?
You see this all the time, characters making notes that no one, in the history of ever, has even been stupid enough to actually write. When you’re taking notes you don’t jot down wide-open rhetorical questions like that. You jot down details you want to remember, and more complex thoughts as a way of organizing them. You don’t write shit like WHO HAD A MOTIVE??? as if it’s helpful in any way. Sinister didn’t invent that shit, but it’s the most recent movie I’ve seen use it. The worst part is it doesn’t even serve the interests of the idiots in the audience, like a lot of these idiot clichés do. It literally serves no purpose.
The Anti-Light Sleeper
The ALS is more of a horror-specific problem, and it’s simple: You have a family or a group of people in a haunted or otherwise horrific place. They go to bed. The ghouls come out and one of them — the protagonist, usually, but not always — spends fifteen minutes stumbling around screaming, knocking shit over, and generally battling the forces of evil.
And no one — NO ONE — wakes up. At least not until the episode is over.
Sinister hits this one hard. Hawke has several extended sequences where he screams, runs around the house, knocks shit over, and generally makes more noise than an elephant in gastrointestinal distress, but his wife and kids just sleep through it all. In my house a kitten on the first floor wakes us up on the third floor when it jumps onto the kitchen table. If I was battling demons in the living room, friends, The Duchess would be out of bed like a bat out of hell in seconds.
That felt good. Complaining always does. I enjoyed Sinister, to be honest, although it wasn’t anything revolutionary — but sometimes solid craft and a few creepy ideas is all it takes. I just hope it means Ethan Hawke will be able to pay his bills through horror movies and won’t have to resort to more novel-writin’.