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sinister film trailer analysis

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sinister film trailer analysis

  1. 1. Analysis of the ‘Sinister’ trailer The film trailer that you can see above promotes a horror movie called ‘Sinister’, which is a film belonging to the supernatural sub-genre. The reasons why I have decided to analyse this trailer is because I feel that it is really effective in promoting this horror film, through its use of effective and appropriate horror iconography and general & technical codes and conventions. Throughout the trailer the audience are constantly reminded of the genre and sub-genre that this film is promoting. This is achieved through appropriate codes and conventions, both general and technical. The iconography used within the trailer ‘Sinister’ includes horrific imagery of victims who have died a painful death i.e. burned inside the car alive or hang, which is quite common among the supernatural sub-genre of horror [since supernatural horror films tends to follow the idea that ‘when the person dies in pain a curse (source of the possession) is born’] . This feature will allow the film to appeal to the appropriate target audience as they would enjoy watching the scary scenes. Furthermore, in this trailer the audience are also presented with possessed, creepy-looking children, which seems to be a regular feature that often crops up in this sub-genre. This will also appeal to the target audience, as they would be absolutely terrified of the possessed children, for the reason that this goes against the innocence and sweetness ordinarily associated with children. Another very important thing that signals the supernatural sub-genre of the film is the use of religious and meaningful symbols within the trailer. In the case of ’Sinister’, it is a symbol of a pagan Sumerian deity named Bughuul. The use of religious symbols or attributes within the supernatural sub-genre, which can be both good and evil, seems to be very common due to the fact that the battle between demonic evil and its binary opposite of religious good often feature as a theme. Furthermore, in the ‘Sinister’ trailer the audience are presented with a discovery of an evil presence, a demonic figure, which is the source of the disruption to the equilibrium. This is another common convention in the supernatural sub-genre that is intended to scare the audience. Another way that the sub-genre is signalled to the target audience is through the mise-en-scene that is presented to them. It is very common for the scene to be set in an isolated/ suburban location and ‘Sinister’ is no exception. The reason for this setting is due to the fact that isolated location means that the character are not able to reach help quickly and, therefore, are forced to fight the source of evil themselves. Non-diegetic text is used very effectively within the ‘Sinister’ trailer. The trailer begins with the green rating screen, which is a very common trailer convention. It straight away signals to the audience that it is a 17+ film, therefore, suggesting to them that the film will be very scary, thus building up their excitement and luring an audience of horror fans to go and watch the film. The audience are then presented with the company logo, which is also an effective way to persuade the audience to watch the film, as the fact that the big institution has produced this film, will give the film further credibility. The audience are told that summit entertainment is a ‘Lionsgate company’. Those who are avid horror film fans will know that Lionsgate are famous for making horror films like ‘Saw’ and ‘The Possession’. This will reassure the audience that they are going to receive an equally effective scare from this film. These two screens seem to appear commonly at the start of film trailers, one after another, and ‘Sinister’ trailer does follow this convention. The next non-diegetic text, that the audience are shown, are some hints about the narrative, which would help them to figure out what might happen in the film and help them make decision whether they will like the film or not. For example, the audience are told that the family moved to the house just 9 month after the murder
  2. 2. took place in that house, this acts like a hint to the audience since number 9 symbolises the holy power and eternity, which in a way is ironic. References to other successful horror films are also very common in supernatural films, and the trailer for ‘Sinister’ is no exception. Closer to the start of the trailer, the audience are presented with the following non-diegetic text: “From the producers of Paranormal Activity and Insidious”. This will make the film more appealing for those within the audience who have already seen or heard of these films and know how enjoyable and scary they are. With this in mind they might want to watch this horror film as well. The audience are also presented with a tagline that also appears on the film’s poster: “Once you see him, nothing can save you.” This creates a symbolic link between the two pieces of media, stretching the audience’s interest in and potential understanding of the tagline and the film’s narrative. Furthermore, the idea that the tagline has a direct address makes the trailer appear even more terrifying and scary, since the audience have just seen the demonic face, thus making them think that their own lives might be in danger. The tagline reveals that the narrative of the film will revolve around some sort of demonic figure that the character must avoid seeing, yet at the same time it gives the audience the hint that the characters within the film probably have seen it and are now forced to fight for their live, even though probably it cannot be saved. The font, which was used both for the tagline and for the reference of other successful horror films, was chosen very appropriately as, even though the letters look more or less solid, some letter also look as if they are bleeding down, thus reflecting the horror genre of film that the trailer is promoting. The title of the film and the release date are always placed at the end of the trailer to inform the audience when the film is coming out. That way the audience would have been already persuaded to go and watch the film and the next thing that they would want to find out is what the film is called and when it will be released. The narrative structure of the ‘Sinister’ trailer follows the narrative convention of film trailers in general. The trailer has a slower start as the audience are presented with characters and their equilibrium i.e. the audience can see a very happy family who have just moved to a new house because they could not afford to live in their old home. We are also told that the main protagonist is a writer. However, then the audience are made aware of a disruption to this normality by presenting a shot of the box with tapes that has disturbing footage recorded on it, which creates the audiences intrigue. This is when the trailer starts to pick up pace, showing the characters reaction to this disruption. A fast montage of edits then follows, presenting the horrific imagery of protagonist children being possessed and acting strange, creating tension and building up the audience’s excitement. At the very end of the trailer this, however, stops and the audience are presented with the film title, which is then followed by a sting of a silhouette of the person, giving the audience a last injection of horror, before they are presented with the release date and institutional information. With regards to Todorov’s narrative structure, as with all film trailers, ‘Sinister’ trailer does not complete all stages of the structure; the audience see as far as the character’s reaction to the disruption. This makes sense, or course, as the audience will not want to see the repair or new equilibrium as this would remove all suspense. The representation of characters within the trailer matches the narrative of the film very well. For example, the children are presented as very week and innocent and, therefore, they are the ones who get possessed first and, as a result, bring terror to their families. This could be especially seen during the fast montage when a little girl is walking towards her father with a hammer or when the protagonist sees a number of children sitting on the floor with heir faces looking evil. When it comes to the representation of males within the trailer, the audience are able to realise that all of them
  3. 3. seem to be presented as clever well educated people, who know exactly what they are doing. A good example of that would be a professor who was explaining to the protagonist the meaning of the symbol that appeared in the trailer. The detective was also male as well as protagonist himself. Furthermore, the protagonist himself within the film is presented as a fighter who is determined to save his family from the demonic figure that haunts them. The female, on the other hand, seem to be represented as a typical housewife, worried about her family and uninformed of what is going on. These representations indicate to the audience that the male characters and children definitely dominate the film and are considered more important. The use of the camera within the trailer was very effective in creating meaning. The trailer begins with an establishing shot of the house where the action will take place and is then closely followed by a number of medium and long shots, which introduce audience to the main characters and their equilibrium. The use of the establishing shot is a very common convention among the supernatural films, as it straight away informs the audience that the main action will take place at the protagonist home (a place that the audience often consider to be the safest). The audience are then presented with a long point of view shot of the box, thus emphasizing the importance of it within the trailer and enabling the audience to guess that that will be the source of disruption to the equilibrium. Furthermore, the use of long point of view shot almost forces the audience to look at that box, making them guess that this scene will act like a breaking point of the trailer. The tension is then created through the use of over the shoulder and point of view shots, closely followed by a reaction shot of the character, through which the audience are able to see the scare and the worry on characters faces as the more truth about the past is discovered. Furthermore, the long point of view shot is also used to present the audience for the first time of the demonic figure in the garden, thus making the audience feel as if they are the ones who are in danger and informing them that the main action is about to take place. During the montage of fast edits, the audience are presented with more close up and medium close up shots of the characters faces. This is especially effective as it shows the terror that they are experiencing, for example, when the protagonist sees his child acting weird (climbing out of the box), the audience are presented with a close-up of his face that show worry and despair. Close to the end of the trailer, when the audience are made aware that the evil has overtaken the family, more long and medium long shots are made use of. The use of those types of shots allows the audience to see how viciously the characters are trying to fight for their lives. Within the trailer, mise-en-scene is used very effectively. As I have mentioned before, the film is set in a quiet and isolated location, which means that when the characters equilibrium is destroyed they will have nowhere to run. Furthermore, the fact that the main action will take place in the house is quite ironic as the audience usually consider their homes as the safest place to be in. The house also doesn’t look too old (even though it is quite old), which is a sign of the film breaking the stereotype that a demonic spirit will exist only in very old and Victorian style houses. This will scare the audience even more, as they might realise that even though their house might be new it is still possible that it could be haunted or playing host to a darker entity. However, the house is typical, despite this significant difference as it is large, detached and is located in a suburban environment. It has big rooms with large windows, yet the inside is always seems under lit; there is also an attic that hides the houses dark secret. The fact that the trailer is mostly set within the night time or when its dark, straight away indicates to the audience that the action will take place during the night, the time when most people are peacefully at sleep and the time when they are the most vulnerable,
  4. 4. thus scaring the audience even further. This also creates a mood that is more dark and sinister, the darkness of the night reflecting the dark nature of the narrative. Throughout the trailer lighting is used very successfully to create meaning. For example, at the beginning of the trailer, even though the house seems to be lit very dimly, the characters’ faces are always illuminated, allowing the audience to see their facial expressions very clearly, for example when the family is eating around the table the audience can clearly see that the characters are smiling and are happy. However, the moment when the main protagonist climbs up to the attic and sees the box (the source of the evil), his face is covered by shadow. This is highly symbolic, as it reflects the way in which the protagonist’s life is about to be overtaken by something very dark and that something evil is lurking within the box. This acts like a breaking point, as after this moment, we see characters faces more and more covered by the shadow, a clear indication that events are taking a more and more sinister turn and that evil is dominating more strongly. The light is then used to illuminate more important objects within the frame, such as the film tapes that contain horrific footage within them, thus straight away signalling to the audience that they play an important role within the trailer. This indicates that the characters and their lives are no longer important in the film, but draw’s the audience’s attention to the importance of the objects. The use of body language and facial expression was also used effectively within the trailer to create meaning and set the atmosphere for the film. At the beginning of the trailer the body language of the characters was very relaxed, while their facial expressions were cheerful. For example, when the couple is in bed and are about to go to sleep their body language seems to be relaxed and they are both smiling and are cheerful. As a result of this, the audience are able to conclude that they see the move to a new house as a new, positive and promising chapter of the lives. However, when the main protagonist finds the box in the attic, the overall atmosphere has changed, and the audience see changes in the body language and facial expression of the characters. After that the audience were able to see more tension in characters body, thus showing them that something was wrong. This could also be seen through a worrying and scared facial expression. For example, when the main protagonist is setting sideways to the laptop with an image of the demonic figure on screen, his body language is very tense and through his facial expression the audience is able to see that he is thinking about something that really worries him. At the very end of the trailer, just before the sting, the audience are presented with looks of terror on characters’ faces. Their helplessness in the face of the killer is also shown through their body language i.e. their body seems to be shaken and there is sweat coming down their faces. This creates excitement and anticipation for the audience and persuades them to go and watch the film as they will want to find out whether or not that character has survived this terror. And finally when it comes to costume and make up, I could say that the simplicity of it within the trailer makes the film look even scarier. For example, all of the characters are wearing simple modern clothes such as jeans, trainers and t-shirts and even when the protagonists son gets possessed and climbs out of the box, at a first sight he loos like a normal healthy boy as his body doesn’t show any scars and his skin colour doesn’t change either and it is only through his abnormal behaviour of screaming hysterically the audience realise that there is something wrong with him. This is a very effective strategy to scare the audience as they would realise that everyone, including those who are ‘normal’ and live ordinary lives, in their ordinary clothes are vulnerable to terrors seen in this trailer. The use of costume and makeup on the demonic figure called Bughuul is also very effective as he wears a black garment, which enables him to hide in the shadows yet his pale white face and the black eyes enables his face to be noticed straight away. This is an effective combination as it fits with the film’s narrative i.e. the children exposed to his face become especially vulnerable.
  5. 5. Another way through which the mood of the film was set and the fear, anticipation and excitement in the audience was created, is through the use of effective an appropriate sound and a clever editing. The trailer begins with a voiceover of a female news reporter speaking, thus straight away explaining to the audience that there has been a murder in the house where the action is set, and thus adding on to audience’s curiosity and promoting a sense of fear. After the text on screen, that explains that the family moved into a house after just 9 month of the murder, the audience can hear a voice over of family members speaking, which explains to us why they have moved to this house. The dialogue between the characters, who are talking about why they have moved to this house and how this is a beginning of a new chapter for them, is also complimented by relatively slow-paced editing, which allows the audience to enjoy and understand the visual of the characters’ equilibrium and their happy family days. When the main protagonist finds the tapes in the attic, the audience are presented with non-diegetic sinister and mysterious sound that is used to add tension, which straight away indicates that something is about to happen. This is also proven even further by the fact that the box is filmed with a long shot, thus almost forcing the audience to pay close attention to it, signalling to them the this box is important and it is the source of evil. A sharp non-diegetic sound then follows, along with a quick montage of shots, to present the horrific imagery recorded on the tape, followed by a diegetic sound of the character screaming and shouting. The use of the diegetic sound in this case gets the adrenaline running in the audience forcing them to close their ears just not to hear this terrifying sound, which at the same time builds up their excitement. By this point the audiences’ excitement has been building up and they start to get more and more curious of what will happen next. After that scene the audience are presented with a constant sinister nondiegetic sound, which they can hear playing in the background while the characters are having a dialogue about the tapes. Through this dialogue the audience are constantly reminded that the demonic figure is now constantly present with the characters and wouldn’t leave until he does what he planned to. This dialogue is very effective in enhancing the audiences understanding and highlighting the most important parts of the narrative. For example, through this dialogue the audience come to understand that the demonic figure is there for the children and he wants to consume their pure souls. This would scare the audience a lot as the idea that the pure souls of children could be taken away is truly horrific, yet this seems to be a common case in many of the supernatural horror films. Just before the first part of the tagline is presented all of the sound seems to stop except for a high pitched, quiet, ringing non-diegetic sound, which is very effective in creating tension in the audience, especially by the fact that it is complimented by the scene of the demonic figure. After the first part of the tagline is presented, the non-diegetic sound starts to get louder and louder and creates fear in the audience. The editing in this part of the trailer is used effectively to match the sound. For example, when the male protagonist is standing near the window with a photo of Bughuul and then sees him in real life in his garden, followed by a reaction shot, the non-diegetic sound is synchronised very cleverly as the sound that is used there is loud and sharp and the editing is also very quick, making the audience jump, thus giving them the scare. Another example is when the audience are presented with the Bughuul on a screen of the computer. Here the quick editing is matched with the sound of, what seems like, a quick pace of heartbeat, which is also very clever because the character within the frame probably feels very scared and distressed by this point and he probably also experienced an increase in their heart rate. The use of this sound is also very effective in making the audience scared, tense and close to the edge of their seats. Closer to the end of the trailer the diegetic sounds seems to be amplified to add on more emphasis to them and enabling audience to hear clearly what is going on. For example, when the
  6. 6. audience are presented with a boy climbing out of the box screaming the sound is amplified making the audience feel uneasy and desperate to close their ears just not to hear that sound. The sound of burning tape is also amplified, which can indicate the protagonists despair. At the end of the trailer the audience can hear the sound of finished tape rolling, which is then complimented by a nondiegetic sound with a similar bit. This sound follows along a montage of horrific scenes, which builds up audience’s excitement and gets their adrenaline running. This sound links with film narrative as the disruption to characters equilibrium begun when the protagonist found the tapes and throughout the film they played an important role in the event that followed. Overall, I believe that the ‘Sinister’ trailer is very effective in luring in the audience and encouraging them to watch the film. The reason why I think so is because the trailer follows the general supernatural horror conventions, the sound IS used very well and it IS very cleverly synchronised with the editing. There IS also evidence of horrific imagery that made the audience scared and excited. One thing that especially inspired me in the trailer is the effective use of the sound. I HAVE come to realise that effective sound resulting in an effective trailer. With this in mind, I will make sure that in our trailer the sound is also used effectively.

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