The Secret of Sinchanee


This is one serious dude.

(2021) Horror (Vertical) Tamara Austin, Steven Grayhm, Nate Boyer, Laila Lockhart Kraner, Rudy Reyes, Chris Neville, Margarita Reyes, Mark Oliver (voice), Kathleen Kenny, Skylar Schanen, Elena Capaldi, Ricky Barksdale, Jacob Schick, TJ Millard, Don McAlister, Emmett Spriggs, Bryanna Nadeau, Jesse Goddard, Trystyn Roberts, Donna Tierney-Jones. Directed by Steven Grayhm

 

It is a shameful fact that the Europeans who came to colonize the Americas often clashed with the Natives who were here first. The interlopers behaved deplorably, making promises they had no intention of keeping, spreading diseases among the native indigenous population and when all else failed, massacring them outright. Not all Europeans treated the first nations poorly, of course, but enough did to create a schism between original inhabitants and colonists that has continued for morethan four hundred years.

Will Stark (Grayhm) is a tow truck driver who suffers from insomnia. He has returned to his home in Massachusetts to dispose of his father’s property, after his father passed away. However, selling the house is no easy task; it is a house, as they say, with a past, and an unsavory one at that – Will witnessed the murder of his mother and sister in that house when he was a child. The townsfolk consider him an odd duck; his father had schizophrenia and Will is showing signs of the condition as well, experiencing strange visions. Of course, the lack of sleep might account for that, too.

But there are other disturbing things going on. A woman for unknown reasons abandons her car in the middle of a cold night and wanders out into the snow to freeze to death. When her body is discovered, it appears as if she has been branded with peculiar symbols. Detectives Carrie Donovan (Austin) and Drew Carter (Boyer) are investigating the case, and they, like Will’s house, have a history – they also have a child together, young Ava (Kraner).

As Will begins experiencing more strange occurrences in the house, Detective Donovan is finding that the case of the murdered woman is leading her increasingly towards the supernatural. She finally meets with a Native American shaman named Solomon Goodblood (Reyes) who tells her about the Sinchanee, a tribe that lived in the area that had shown remarkable resistance to the diseases that the white settlers brought to the area. This apparently annoyed the heck out of a pagan cult called the Atlantow who were bound and determined to destroy the Sinanchee and turned their death spirit against them. The Atlantow will not be satisfied until every last remaining Sinchanee is wiped out. Guess who has Sinchanee blood running in their veins? Yup…Will, Carrie…and Ava.

First-time filmmaker Grayhm opts to tell Will and Carrie’s stories concurrently. This is a tactical error, as it lengthens the film unnecessarily. There’s also an awful lot of unnecessary business in the movie, which takes a long time to get going and once it does, doesn’t really pack the kind of excitement that the slow buildup would required as a payoff. Grayhm, who also wrote the film, uses a lot of horror movie tropes which don’t add luster to the story.

The cinematography by Logan Fulton is very scenic in a wintery way and does make the movie look good. Grayhm also does a good job of creating a tone for the movie, which is right about two hours long and should have been at least a half hour less. One way he might have accomplished this is by combining the two storylines, having Carrie and Will working together. It might have streamlined the story which is badly in need of it.

In these politically correct times of woke expectations, I wonder about using Native American legends as a framework for a horror movie, even if the legends are spun from whole cloth. There might be some who take offense to it…but then again, basically we’re in an era where everything causes offense by one person or another; so, what are you gonna do? I get the sense that Grayhm was fairly respectful of Native American culture in general, although that’s not really for me to say – not being of that ethnic group. But I think it would have been more respectful to make a better movie about native mythology just as a general rule of thumb.

REASONS TO SEE: Does a good job of creating a tone.
REASONS TO AVOID: Should have streamlined the story considerably.
=FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, violence and some disturbing images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The company Will works for in the movie actually exists in Massachusetts, although that is not their office used in the film.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Redbox, Vudu
=CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/9/2021: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Wendigo
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
The Many Saints of Newark

Man in the Field: The Life and Art of Jim Denevan


Even sitting down to a meal can be a work of art.

(2020) Documentary (Greenwich) Jim Denevan, Marcus Samuelsson, Deval Patrick, Damani Thomas, Jane Rosen, Catherine Panip, Hans Haveman, John McCarthy, Linda Butler, Sean Baker, Dina Brewster, Matt Lackey, Paul Kulik, Nion McEvoy, Danika Markegard, Jason Weiner, William Fox, Randall Graham, Andrew McLester, Tish Denevan. Directed by Patrick Trefz

 

It is true that art can come in all shapes and forms. It is also true that art can be found sometimes where you don’t expect to find it.

Jim Denevan is an artist. His canvas is nature. He began by drawing geometric shapes and patterns in the sand. His art is extremely impermanent; the tide and wind can wash it away in moments. His art, however, is no less beautiful for that; there is a kind of elemental magic in it, as you might find from a shaman conducting a ritual, or a sorcerer constructing a spell. Either way, his work has a powerful effect on the viewer.

Denevan also has a passion for food and eating, and he felt that we as a species needed to get closer to the sources of the food we eat. From this sprang his organization, Outstanding in the Field. Outstanding in the Field conducts these elaborate events where tables are set up in specific, exact ways, generally in places where food is sourced – farms, ranches and orchards. Local chefs are called in, sometimes some fairly well-known ones, who prepare a menu and then supervising the preparation of the meal. Jim acts as a kind of a host and facilitator, making sure that things are set up properly so that the guests have the kind of experience he envisions. Sometimes things go like clockwork (rarely) but most times they don’t; windy conditions means place settings are blown all over hither and yon; rain can cause the event to be relocated indoors; beach-set Outstandings can end up with waves crashing into guests.

But Jim perseveres and does these hugely popular events year after year (for those interested in signing up for a future event, point your browser here). The film shows smatterings of various events, interspersed with some of Jim’s art, drawn on beaches, deserts or in fields. Mostly we’re hearing from farmers, chefs and former guests who sing the praises of the event, as well as a few art curators who sing the praises of Jim’s artwork. That’s to be expected.

My issue with the way that the filmmaker chooses to make his film is that he shows brief clips from a variety of Outstanding events from all over the world with almost zero detail about the event itself. I think it would have been far more interesting to see how one event was put together, from the menu planning to the set-up to the execution. Then, we could have gotten more of a feel for the experience. The way it’s done is more like flipping through the pages of a magazine article without stopping for more than a few seconds on any page and expecting to gain an understanding from that. It doesn’t work. I could have gotten as much information from a list of past events run by the organization.

We also don’t see much about what drives Denevan to make his art until the very last 20 minutes or so when he begins to talk about the mental health issues of his family and how it affected him. It’s pretty intense stuff, and seemed to be included as an afterthought, but it is really the most illuminating segment in the film. Yes, I think Denevan’s endeavors are worth a documentary, but it feels like we just skimmed through the surface here rather than doing a deep dive into either his life or his art. A little more effort and detail might have made this a better movie.

REASONS TO SEE: Shows how hard and food can collide.
REASONS TO AVOID: The filmmaker goes skipping from event to event without a whole lot of detail.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity and a frank discussion of mental illness.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Three of Denevan’s brothers were diagnosed with schizophrenia within the same year.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV
CRITICAL MASS: ;As of 9/26/2021: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
The Song of the Butterflies

The Uninvited


The Uninvited

Alex and Anna compare notes on the dock.

(DreamWorks) Emily Browning, Elizabeth Banks, David Strathairn, Arielle Kebbel, Maya Massar, Kevin McNulty, Jesse Moss, Dean Paul Gibson, Don S. Davis. Directed by The Guard Brothers

If there is anything worse than losing your mother, it is watching your father take up with a younger woman after an unseemly short period of mourning. That’s enough to make a girl psychotic.

Anna (Browning) is about to be released from a mental hospital. Dr. Silberling (Gibson) is concerned that she still has some issues, but is satisfied that she is able to function on her own. She had difficulty dealing with the death of her invalid mother (Massar) in a fire. Her father (Strathairn), a noted author, has since taken his late wife’s nurse Emily (Elizabeth Banks) into his bed, which has upset Anna’s other sister Alex (Kebbel) very much to the point where she barely talks to her father and not at all to his new girlfriend.

Anna is haunted by terrible nightmares that she feels are efforts by her mother to communicate with her from beyond the grave. She begins to suspect that Emily had something to do with the fire. Certainly, as warm and welcoming as Emily seems to be, there is a lot of things that make Anna suspicious. When local boy Matt (Moss), with whom she was canoodling the night of the fire, tells her that he saw something the night of the fire, those suspicions grow. Alex feeds into those suspicions; she never liked Emily anyway.

Anna’s visions are growing steadily more frightening and events begin to turn ugly. Anna does some research into Emily’s background and finds some disturbing information – or lack thereof. It certainly looks like Emily is hiding something and Anna is sure that she means to get rid of the two sisters so that she can have her father all to herself. How can she get anyone to believe her when everyone thinks that she’s crazy?

The Guard brothers, Charles and Thomas, hail from England and this is their first feature. They do a lot of things right. Casting Browning was the first thing. She is simply perfect in a role that requires a very juvenile look but a very mature actress. Her wide eyes, sensuous lips and Alexis Bledel-like bangs make her look gamine, but with a certain sophistication that teen girls possess. She is completely believable in her role.

There are also some pretty nifty scares as well as some particularly gruesome images. The Guard brothers have a good sense of how to control the viewers’ emotions, making the scares as effective as possible. They prefer subtlety to over-the-top imagery and while they don’t shy away from the gruesome, they use the mood to their advantage.

Along with Browning, Strathairn and Banks deliver impressive performances. Banks has to be almost schizophrenic in her performance, as both the friendly and maternal persona and as well as the evil and manipulative persona and she gets both across nicely. Strathairn is always impressive as an actor who can radiate affability and menace at the same time. He is one of my favorite character actors working today.

One thing that disturbed me a little bit was that this is a remake of a really good Korean horror movie called A Tale of Two Sisters and the producers seem to be distancing them as much as possible from it. The DVD is nearly silent about the fact that an earlier version exists which in a way I can understand – it is a much better movie than this one.

Still, this one is pretty good. The sense of menace is palpable and the scares well-executed. The ending is supposed to be a bit of a twist, but in all honesty it isn’t that much of one – veteran horror fans will probably spot it well in advance even if they didn’t see the original. Despite that, I can still recommend it to fans of the horror genre, although non-horror fans may give it a wide berth, even though I’d classify this as more of a psychological thriller than out-and-out horror – it has elements of both. If that doesn’t scare you off, then have at it.

WHY RENT THIS: Browning is the ultimate ingénue, and her relationship with her sister is very believable. There are some genuine scares and not just the startling kind, either. Strathairn and Banks are two pros who always deliver.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie that this is a remake of is much better. The “twist” ending is not that shocking.

FAMILY VALUES: While this is rated PG-13, I would hesitate before letting smaller kids watch this. There is some gruesome imagery and sexual content, as well as some pretty nasty violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was the final feature appearance of character actor Don S. Davis (best known as General Hammond in the “Stargate: SG-1” series) who passed away from a massive heart attack several months after filming was completed.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus