Hello, internet. Spoilers ahead. One is a movie coming out soon, the next won't be out until next year. You've been warned!
I've seen some scary movies, read a lot of horror books, and have sat around a few campfires to share stories. I feel as though I may have some grasp on the tropes and standards and usually the expected plot-paths. So I am going to try something a little different and see if I can't review a movie based on its trailer alone, and then see how closely my review matches what the movie actually reveals.
Trailer for Sinister, an upcoming horror movie : http://vimeo.com/47259536
The first victim of this experiment is the movie 'Sinister'. Based on the trailer, we have a scary demon that lives in pictures, finds kids particularly tasty, and has, for an unknown reason, made itself manifest in some random suburban house in Anywhere, USA. On the plus side, the trailer involves quite a few no-budget events which are fantastically creepy. A printout of a movie-still is held up to the window, revealing where the apparition was at the time of the filming. When the paper is lowered, THE GHOST IS THERE IN THE BUSHES! Then after we look again, it's gone. Whew. Another excellent event is where the old quicktime(!?) file is paused on the laptop screen as our main character looks away, and the image of the ghostdemon turns to look at him, apparently unaware of what 'pause' means.
The downside of the trailer, and these events in particular, is the cheap and cheezy 'jumpscare' flash of white, single-frame ultra-zoom, and loud noise (which invariably includes the vague sound of a person screaming briefly, even though no such scream actually happens in the movie-world). Just a sound-track addition which is meant as a 'haha, gotcha!' from the film creaters and usually just pulls me out of the action. For the best example, hearken back to Indiana Jones' Raiders of the Lost Ark. After being trapped in the Well of Souls with the snakes, he cracks through a wall and discovers a hidden burial area, with skeletons inexplicably set against the wall. One then falls forward and slumps against its restraints, dropping its jaw and gawking at Marion. For absolutely no reason at all, there is a shrill scream to accompany it. Indy didn't scream. Marion didn't squealed, but unless she learned how to scream twice at the same time, or the skeleton let out a last death-wail 3000 years too late, this is just a gotcha jumpscare.
I expect Sinister will be infested with such things. I also expect there is going to be a twist that we are not privy to in the trailer. See, I think the father, the main character, is our antagonist. I think he is the murderer. Maybe he murdered his family as a child, long ago, and forgot about it. Don't laugh, this happens a lot in these stories. Then he came back, found the evidence, and started trying to solve a mystery or expose a demon. I think we will discover that he is the only one to find the face of the demon, and is the only one to find the signs scrawled on the walls. One of his children seem to have night terrors, and will be the source of a lot of jumpscares as the man wanders his house, paranoid and wielding a cleaver. Who knows, maybe he'll take out the kid and that's when it is revealed that he has been the murderer all along. The daughter picks up drawing on the walls, but that can simply a case of having seen her father in action and following in his footsteps. Expect the police to be investigating and either discover the scene after he takes out his family and himself (again), or interrupt him just as he starts to go nuts and thereby save his family. Maybe we'll get a glimpse of the ghostdemon afterward, leaving us with a "Oooh, maybe it wasn't him after all!" twist to the twist.
Failing to answer questions you have raised, due to an unreliable narrator and a ghost story you invented, or otherwise leaving the timeline unexplainable, does not always make for 'creepy'. Sometimes it just makes for 'wow, you're a bad storyteller.'
Bonus tip: 'Sinister' is a term used for left-handed people, back when such an unseemly attribute hinted at a wicked mind. I wonder if that will tie in, and be a 'clue' that something is amiss with our narrator character? Does he switch hands when he's crazy? I'll be a little disappointed if this doesn't feature, somehow.
Trailer for Mama, an upcoming 'thriller' movie : http://vimeo.com/49433015
Two children left in the woods for over five years, found in a cottage by themselves and so absolutely feral that I swear they used CG the first scene where we see them. That animalistic, almost plant-like movement the girl makes to get up onto the refrigerator is incredible. Their uncle adopts them, 'rescuing' them from the forest cabin and letting them live in the (way oversized) house with he and his wife/girlfriend. This woman is a goth/emo underwear model who reeks of subterfuge. She misunderstands the younger sister's murmerings of 'mama' to mean that she wants to call this new woman her mom. Nope! The house itslef may well become another character - from the brief glimpses we get, I'm assuming there are possibly four bedrooms, a large kitchen/dining room, a sitting room and a living room. Perhaps a playroom upstairs, or just a repurposed bedroom. Why in the world does a young couple, one of whom seems to invest a good chunk of income into her eyeliner, need a house like this?
The trailer introduces us to the idea that 'someone is coming to visit the girls', and offers little sneaky-peeks of something in the wall, on the ceiling, on the street. One looks male, when we see him under an archway pointing off to the side. The little bit of backstory I can guess at is that the girls' mother and father killed each other. Either the father turned bad and murdered mama, or she died and didn't stay dead, or she turned out to be one of those evil forest witches things and he killed her to protect the girls, dying in the process. In any case, mama followed the girls to their new home, and does not seem fond of the new mother-figure. Maybe she is protecting her girls from a secretively bad lady, or she's just crazy possessive. This is where it depends on how father is involved - he may now also be a ghost that is protecting the kids from mama, and trying to lead his brother to solve the mystery of what happened. He may be out of the picture entirely. We definitely see mama, in the trailer, being very aggressive and creepy-crawly on the floor, racing toward the camera. We also know the little girl sees something under Annabel's bed, which Annabel is aware of and horrified by. Annabel also gets the chance to approach mama, wearing a new jacket and fidgeting in the kitchen. I expect that one will lead to a jump-scare too, but would be delighted if it were a more slow turnaround to gradually reveal the dessicated face.
In either scenario, I see the potential for something we don't often get in these ghost stories - a protagonist ghost. Papa, or mama, is protecting and still caring for these girls. The trailer does not have much in the way of jump-scares, which is a huge plus, and there are plenty of creepy moments where something is either seen on the screen, or one of the characters definitely sees it - but is gone when the camera turns. The only down-side of the trailer is the reveal of mama racing across the floor. I think it was a bit unnecessary, and it always takes away from the scares when you show the monster too early. Showing the monster in the trailer? Waaaay too early. It's a good looking monster, though, definitely nestled comfortably in the uncanny valley. This is especially true on those couple of scenes where we see the vague outline, or the back, of a figure who is moving in ways a human can not move (complete with bone scraping/cracking sound effects). The girls have obviously learned their movements from this phantasm. The girls also have their own quiet conflict, with the older Victoria being seen as open to becoming a part of the new family. The younger girl obviously dislikes Annabel, and grins brightly when mama is on the move.
I predict this movie will ultimately have a happy ending, with a murder solved, and Annabel getting her comeuppance for whatever nefarious plans she has. One ghost, maybe two, will also be satisfied with the results and leave this family to go back to the mundane horrors of raising two girls. Possibly raised by a single father.