Director: Scott Derrickson
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, James Ransone
Plot: A true crime fiction writer (Hawke) moves into the house of a murdered family to write his next book, when he finds a box of film reels in the attic.
Sinister opens with one of the most horrific scenes in recent horror history. A grainy video footage shows a family being slowly hanged, until death, in one single shot. It does not cut away; it does not spare the viewer any courtesy. It simply shows an entire family being slowly choked to death. While Sinister isn’t the scariest movie out there, it is one of the most eerie and that opening shot is the perfect example of the kind of experience the rest of the movie is going to give you.
True crime fiction writer, Ellison Oswalt (played by Ethan Hawke, a surprisingly high-brow actor for a small-time horror flick), moves his family into a big house in a small town. What he doesn’t tell his family is that the old occupants of the house were hung (the family from the opening shot), in the garden and their little daughter announced missing – a murder that was never solved. This is the subject of his new book, although with his marriage strained by their life revolving around murder hotspots, he keeps this a secret from his wife and kids. Early on in the film, Oswalt finds a box of film reels in the attic, each containing a snuff movie. Rather than go to the police, Oswalt decides to research these tapes and write a book that could become his big break. However by viewing the videos, his family becomes the next target of a supernatural demon.
Sinister comes from the producers of Insidious, which I found to be the most terrifying movie I have yet seen. I had high hopes for this flick, although at the same time, I am still fairly new to the idea of going to the cinema for the sole reason of being scared (I guess I still am). What I liked about this film is that it seemed to find a completely different kind of scary. While Insidious was a ‘make you jump’ horror, Sinister takes a slower, more psychological route. There are few quick spooks here, but more long drawn out scenes, like the opening one, explained above. You will be watching through your fingers, unable to believe the horror and evil being played out in front of you. The snuff movies are fantastically portrayed.
Then something weird happens. About an hour in, the movie decides to fall back on the simple jumps and quick flashes, abandoning the smart approach that made it so unique in the first half of the movie. Seriously, there is a bit near the end, where the demon’s head pops out from the side of the camera, all of a sudden. It makes you jump, but it was such a cheap shot that I began to lose respect for the writers and director. Also, the scene with the demon kids dancing around the living room is not scary; it is laugh out loud funny. I am surprised it managed to get into the final cut. This change in style makes me think that the director found something scary and unique, but lost faith in his vision while writing up the script. He took the easy way out, falling back on the obvious tricks to make it a more conventional horror. This upset me, because Sinister had the chance of being something really great.
The monster was great. You only ever see snippets of him in the grainy video, until the very end. There is something so symbolically occult about him that he scares the viewers without really trying too hard. Even the still images of him are kind of freaky. Nearer the end, when he gets longer screen time, the chills fade, especially when the cheap jumpy shots out begin, which is a shame. I would have loved to leave the cinema, not really understanding this demon. That would have been a sure-fire way of giving everyone nightmares when they got home that night.
Ethan Hawke also deserves some credit here. Because the film runs on the slower kind of horror, it really needed a strong protagonist to hold the bits in between together. Hawke does that well, giving us a character to root for. This is where most horror movies fall down. I enjoyed how Hawke always armed himself, when he suspected something was lurking at the shadows. I spend most of the time watching horrors, yelling at the character to get a weapon, so it was nice to have the writers think of that. Hawke’s character also wasn’t meant to be a nice person, so Ethan Hawke really needed to find a sense of charisma to make the part work. He did and I think held this movie up, when the flaws began making this movie a little shaky nearer the end.
I do think this movie is a little too dark for my tastes (the ending is especially grim), but I reckon there are some hard-core horror fans, who would love how this movie plays out. I will leave you with this one thought. If the demon gets you through the use of multi-media, like when Oswalt finds the film reels, doesn’t that mean that everyone who saw it in the cinema becomes the next victim? Oh, I’m sure you’ll be fine. Was that a knock at the door?
Final verdict: Although it loses touch of what made the first half great, this is still a strong horror and worth a watch.