Hide the kids, burn your old film projector, and call the exorcist! According to Sinister, there’s a boogie man in town, and he’s coming for you! AAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!
Or at least, that’s how I felt when I was in the theater Saturday watching it. Sinister, a frightfest from the minds of director Scott Derrickson and his co-writer C. Robert Cargill, stars Ethan Hawke as Ellison Oswalt, a true crime novelist who moves his wife and two kids into a creepy new home. The previous family was hanged to death from a tree in the backyard, and one of the kids is missing. The killer remains unknown and on-the-loose, but Ellison’s braving the danger and ick factor because he feels that living in the crime scene will help him solve the mystery and write a bestseller about the murders. (CAAAASH MONEY, BABY!)
But soon after they move in, Ellison finds a strange box in the attic with a projector and Super 8 film inside. He takes the contents to his private office, and once he starts watching, he’s SHOCKED to discover that they’re recordings of the family’s murder, and others from years past. Then he starts hearing strange noises and seeing things, and life grows scarier and more disturbing for the Oswalts as time goes on…
Sinister is a decent horror movie that differs from many of its brethren because its scares come from a slowburn of suspense instead of a gore-filled hack fest. Sure, there’s blood involved, but the film’s storytelling, execution and atmosphere are what make you flinch at the screen (in a good way), not over-the-top death scenes.
So how scary is this atmosphere? Oh look, Ellison’s watching real-life people getting their throats slit while he’s in his office with the lights turned off, just like if you were watching The Shining or playing Dead Space alone in your house in complete darkness! Isn’t that comforting? And Oh! This weird, insane clown-looking dude’s face is popping up in weird places! Yippee!
Two other of the movie’s good qualities are the acting and character development. The age-old parenting dilemma of work time versus family time is crucial to the plot. Ellison spends time watching footage and investigating clues that he could spend with his wife and children, and his obsession puts them in jeopardy. Yet the writing and Hawke’s beleaguered performance don’t paint him as a villain, just desperate and pitiful. He’s low on cash, and his last hit book was 10 years ago, so solving this mystery and writing something successful about it will put him back on the map and help him provide for his family. Ellison forges ahead, hoping that it will be worth it.
But quality acting and character development also make you want to punch a hole through the screen. Ellison should go STRAIGHT to the police with the found footage once he sees it, but he doesn’t. (See, cops don’t like him because his novels complicate their investigations and make them look bad, so he doesn’t have a great relationship with them. Yeah, I know. You’re thinking, “WHO CARES!? HIS DAMN LIFE’S IN DANGER!!” But, y’know, it’s a horror movie, folks. They don’t always make sense.) And he knows LONG before the movie’s conclusion that there’s supernatural funny business going on, but unfortunately, he keeps watching unsettling movies and hiding his experiences from his wife and kids. He’s scared as hell, but he just can’t help himself.
Sinister’s a solid movie that delivers on its implied promise: it rattles you (a scary movie’s most important job), but in ways that many modern scary movie writers and directors seem to have forgotten. It uses ambiance, decent character and plot development to generate its chills, which is refreshing.
For another Sinister review, check out our very own editor-in-chief’s piece over at Good Girls Gone Geek.