Horror movie notes: ‘Unearth’, ‘Sinister’, and ‘Fallen’

I’ve caught a few more horror movies of late: one relatively new, two a bit older. Here are my very quick reviews, given in reverse chronological order of the dates of the films:

Unearth (2020)

Billed as “a fracking horror story”, Unearth is a horror film that purports to combine postmodern anxieties (economic malaise, climate change) with a horror plot reminiscent of Alien or The Thing.

The basic setup is this: a struggling farmer in western Pennsylvania allows an energy firm to excavate for natural gas on his land. Bad things are awakened from underground. Hijinks ensue.

There was a lot that could have been done with this idea. Most of the movie, though, was wasted on repetitive emotional drama, and several sexual subplots that seemed tacked-on and pointless.

Unearth did feature a strong performance from 80s horror film star Adrienne Barbeau. But the writers of Creepshow (1982), The Fog (1980), and the aforementioned The Thing (1982) gave Barbeau much better movies to work with.

Sinister (2012)

Ethan Hawke stars as a true crime writer who moves into a house where a family of four was recently murdered, in the hope that the home’s atmosphere will inspire a bestselling book.

The writer soon finds that the house contains more than just memories and dark ambiance, though. The events of the family’s murder are still very much present, as is a force behind a string of similar murders that have occurred since the 1960s.

Sinister has multiple plot holes. And—as is too often the case in horror movies—the characters do things that people of otherwise ordinary intelligence and judgement simply wouldn’t do. I would also have done the ending differently, had it been my movie.

That said, Sinister has some genuinely scary moments. This film has a vibe that is downright creepy, and you’ll be thinking about it for a while after the action stops. I did, anyway.

Fallen (1998)

This is one of Denzel Washington’s best films. (And Denzel Washington has made a lot of good movies.)

In Fallen, Washington plays detective John Hobbes, a Philadelphia Police Detective who is stalking a demonic entity known as Azazel.

Fallen is more of a supernatural thriller film than a horror movie. There is a recognizable narrative structure to the film (something definitely missing from Unearth), and the main character has agency and initiative (a factor missing from Sinister).

Fallen is probably not a movie that is going to keep you awake at night. But it will keep you guessing, and you’ll remember it. I saw Fallen for the first time about twenty years ago, and I very much enjoyed my second viewing.

As a bonus, there are strong secondary role performances from Elias Koteas and the late James Gandolfini (1961-2013), both of whom later went on to larger roles. (Both Koteas and Gandolfini also appeared in The Sopranos, with Gandolfini in the starring role.)

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