Thoughts on Horror Film Endings (a post “Sinister” reflection)

*Disclaimer: This is not a film review but an analysis. I aim to critique and analyse certain horror films, and will be mentioning details in various horror films, including the film Sinister. As such, I’ll openly be mentioning significant spoilers in this entry. If you haven’t seen the film, go read my other entries. If you have no intention of watching the film, then read ahead. I am, however, telling you now that you’re an idiot for not wanting to watch this film. Well, not really , but right now I’m telling you that this is definitely one film you will NOT want to miss in cinemas. This is easily a genuinely scary film, and a well made one too.

Verdict: 3.5 stars out of 5. (but it’s definitely a recommendation)

I’ve recently seen Sinister on cinemas. It’s not a perfect film (but then, so’s this world), but with the amount of crappy horror films out there, this significantly stands tall among most of them. Granted, it does not stand alongside The Exorcist and The Shining (which Sinister interestingly is inspired by) but the film definitely is an addition to my ever growing library of competent and genuinely scary horror films (of which includes The RiteThe Crazies, the two Dawn of the Dead films, John Carpenter’s The Thing, and the more recent The Woman in Black). While Sinister definitely is one of the more genuinely scary films to have been released this year, there are still some issues with how recently made horror films end: namely, everyone dies at the end. Well, not entirely, but it seems to be the trend nowadays to end your horror film with a downer. The one film which seems to seemingly break away from this trend would be The Woman in Black but even that film ends in a downer.

What would be the best way to end a horror film? There are endings where the protagonist is creamed by the malevolent force. Sometimes, there are films where they seemingly win, but then some genius of a filmmaker decides to yank the rug from beneath our feet and give an ending which comes out of nowhere. Finally, there is an ending where the protagonist overcomes his or her hurdle. He or she defeats or overcomes the malevolent force, but at a deep price to him/her. And of course, there’s the standard happily ever after ending (an example would be all three Scream films). Which among these endings are arguably the most ideal way to end horror movies?

I, personally, do not like endings where the protagonists lose (well, maybe back in my youth, but then I was an idiot for being emo and existentialist). Allow me to clarify that statement: I do not like films where protagonists have absolutely NO fighting chance against the antagonist. Paranormal Activity is one of those examples. Not only are the protagonists retarded ( seriously, as in mental hospital type of retarded), but they’re absolutely helpless. They’re against a demon, a disembodied manifestation of evil. How the f*ck can they stand against that?

“But Evil Dr. Bok, ” I’m already hearing the lynch mob at my doorsteps, “it’s the intention of the screenwriter and the director for the protagonists to lose. There’s nothing they can do against their enemy. It’s pointless!” If that’s the case, why bother making it then? Like I mentioned in my review of Insidious, the world’s already dark, pointless (arguably), and depressing already. Why should I even bother watching something I know to be true already? This is why the Paranormal Activity films are pointless. All we see are retarded people trying to solve something the audience already knows. All we see are people who couldn’t even raise families to save their lives, how the heck could they stand against a demonic entity?

It’s important for the audience to see those people in horror films overcome their hurdle. The Crazies, and both Dawn of the Dead films did that. Granted, the 2004 Dawn of the Dead had characters you wouldn’t care less about but that’s not the point, at least for now. The point is that they can fight the threat of the horde. They aren’t helpless, they are fighters. The Crazies featured smart characters you’d empathize with. When they’re in trouble, you’d be scared for them (especially for Radha Mitchell‘s character as she’s pregnant with Timothy Olyphant-astic’s baby), but they’re not entirely helpless.

The same goes with Insidious. You’d be scared for the situation of Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson’s character. They’re nice people: you don’t want anything bad to happen to nice people, but unfortunately, horror films do that. They, however, weren’t too helpless either. I’m not saying this is a good thing, but thank goodness for that entirely convoluted exposition about astral projection and stuff in the film’s second half. Fine, it diminished the mystery (and the horror) of the film but at least the protagonists have a chance to save their kid who’s stuck in that world. But while Insidious stayed away from the “Bambi meets Godzilla” plotting, the film committed a fatal flaw. This flaw practically ruined three acts worth of build-up: everyone dies at the end because some other malevolent spirit which wasn’t the malevolent spirit they’ve been fighting finally gets to possess Patrick Wilson.

“But Evil Dr. Bok!” I hear you as you guys pound through my locked bedroom door, “Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead had that ‘everyone dies at the end’ ending but you rave about it! What makes Insidious any different from them?” Good question, but would you please send that lynch mob away, he was dead when I got there, I swear!

Ahem, back to the point at hand: what makes the 2004 Dawn of the Dead acceptable as compared to Insidious? Simple: Dawn of the Dead is a popcorn film. It isn’t trying to make a profound statement,  although I did pick up that what they’re trying say is, “Idiots deserve to die.” In relation to that, Dawn of the Dead’s characters are mostly cardboard cut-outs. There isn’t a decent bit of characterization for them other than they’re (but not entirely) idiotic. This might seem mean, but in a twisted sense, it doesn’t matter whether they survive or not because I really didn’t care much for them. That isn’t the case with Insidious. These are characters which you empathize with. To suddenly let go of their hands as they hold on for dear life is nothing short of a slap to the audience. “I was waiting for them to survive. They have to survive! Why didn’t you let them survive! You f*cking sadist!”

But this again reminds of another film which I enjoyed thoroughly: John Carpenter’s The Thing. The film ends with Kurt Russell killing the shape-shifting alien and preventing it from escaping into the world. However, their base in Antartica in blown to bits, and their helicopter was destroyed. Finally, a snowstorm’s coming, and they have no shelter or means of escape. The question is this: what makes this ending acceptable as compared to Insidious? By the simple fact that they prevented the alien from heading to civilation, and because of the ambiguity of the ending. They might die, but they did survive an encounter with an “unstoppable” alien. What’s a snowstorm going to do to dampen their will to survive?

The Exorcist and The Shining also ends like this. Fr. Karras and Fr. Merrin die at the end of The Exorcist but they are able to exorcise the demon from Reagan. Wendy and Danny Torrance escape the Overlook Hotel at the end of The Shining, but there are two people dead: Jack Torrance and Dick Hallorann. In a way, endings like these are probably the more artistically and aesthetically pleasing. The protagonist do not come out of their encounter unscathed, but in a sense, you may feel a bit of assurance that they’ll be alright. After all, they survived the unnatural. What’s a little worldly hurdle to them now?

Now, how does this all relate to Sinister? I mentioned earlier on that it isn’t a perfect film. The film contains an unbelievably selfish and dumb character, some cheap jumps scares, and an overlong denouement. But what makes this highly imperfect film recommended is the use of tension and sound to create a genuinely unsettling environment. Additionally, for a film which showcases snuff films, this film is not too gory. If it does gore, it does so off-screen. The imagination is put to work. And a particularly horrific scene involving jump scares, a lawnmower, and flash editing creates a truly effective horror sequence. And while the ending is terribly predictable (namely, they all die in the end), this one presents an anomaly as I didn’t truly empathize with Ethan Hawke’s character (I found myself mouthing, “You f*cking idiot” a couple of times during the screening). In other words, this is an example of a popcorn type horror film, with idiotic characters but a truly great craftsmanship. And because the characters are quite idiotic, they kinda got what’s coming to them in the end. Although I would have preferred that they did outsmart that obscure Babylonian god, it didn’t really matter whether they died or not.

To End

The best type of horror film endings would be the “bittersweet” kind as this is would seem the most plausible of the different endings discussed here. The standard fairy-tale ending may work if done properly, while the two (the “Bambi meets Godzilla” and the “twist of Shymalan proportion) should be avoided as much as possible. The everyone dies at the end type of ending is okay if we’re dealing with idiotic characters because there’s nothing more satisfying than seeing an idiot pay for his idiocy in a horror film.

2 thoughts on “Thoughts on Horror Film Endings (a post “Sinister” reflection)

  1. Astral Writer

    Nice review of horror film endings. The best horror film ending is Sinister. Awesome twist ending leaves you shocked.

    The Cabin in the Woods has a terrible ending. So does The Devil Inside. The Possession has a good ending. Thanks.

    Reply

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