[Review] – Sinister

21 Oct

Title: Sinister
Year: 2012
Director: Scott Derrickson
Writers: Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, Fred Thompson, James Ransome, Clare Foley, Michael Hall D’Addario
MPAA Rating: R, disturbing violent images and some terror
Runtime: 110 min
IMDb Rating: 7.3
Rotten Tomatoes: 62%
Metacritic: 52

Sinister, the supernatural horror film that premiered at SXSW and came in third last weekend at the box office, is the 200th 2012 release I’ve seen so far and comes from Jason Blum, the producer of the Paranormal Activity films and it meshes the found-footage style of that franchise with regular cinematography under the direction of Scott Derrickson, the guy behind The Exorcism of Emily Rose. A part of me didn’t like the film because it behaved like every other movie of its genre but then again something in me actually kind of responded to the twists this one had under its sleeve which really made it seem like something pretty neat.

As the film opens you get this Super 8 footage of an unseen figure hanging a family of four from a tree. Then you flashforward to months later and meet Ethan Hawke‘s character, Ellison Oswalt, a true-crime novelist who moves into the same house where the family from the opening footage was killed with his own family of four and actually uses those murders as the basis for his new book. You know that can’t be good, obviously, and when Ellison finds a box in the attic with a projector and a few Super 8 reels you get to see why.

You see, the Super 8 films he found were labeled with totally normal names like “BBQ Party” or “Lawn Work” like families had been documenting ordinary activities for years. Except the BBQ is footage of a family being killed in an arson, the lawn work one is of people being run over by a lawn mower, and so on, there’s also the one that opened the film, which is called “Family Hanging Out”. As he watches these films, obviously, his family will start experience some really weird stuff going around them.

It really surprised me how this worked out, I thought the slow-burn process of it all worked nicely and, unlike most of the films like it, this one actually gets stronger in its second half. I’m not saying this is a great horror film or anything close to that, but on paper this sounded like absolute crap and yet it worked so much better than it should have. Part of it comes from the fact that Ethan Hawke actually delivers a damn solid performance and part of it comes from Mr. Derrickson, who is really smart in the way he meshes the found footage stuff with the regular style of camerawork and how effective the scares he elicits can be.

When I talked about V/H/S which I saw on Tuesday I kind of lamented the current state of horror movies in which so many of them feel totally recycled and can’t offer any real scares and how it was nearly impossible to find a great horror flick and how hard it also was to find a merely okay one. Like V/H/S, Sinister is a film that works. It works because it gets under your skin, even though it walks the walk that so many before it have this is still one of those films that if you see at night (I, thankfully, did not) then you’ll have a hard time walking home or going to sleep and, ultimately, you can’t really ask much more from it.

Props to Mr. Derrickson, really, for making it work. Even if you can see the main twist coming from a mile away (which you probably will) it will probably still have good effect on you because as a director he achieves this really chilling atmosphere that will still get you to kind of jump out of your seat a couple of time. It also works because this is stuff coming from Ellison’s perspective and the performance from Mr. Hawke gets you to have this human interest in him and adds depth to the most typical of proceedings. This is a guy who really wants to write a best-seller and in order to get inspired for it moves his family to a house where some horrible murders took place without even telling them about that.

So really if you’re a horror buff then you should really seek out Sinister. It’s not ground-breaking but it’s seriously effective, with really cool characters, a director that knows how to craft this whole thing and an ability to deliver scare after scare like gangbusters, not giving you a moment to breathe and an actor leading the whole show that somehow really got to understand and portray this character as a three-dimensional human being. The score by Christopher Young, by the way, is one of the highlights of the film, it really amps the tension like crazy, much like he accomplished in Drag Me To Hell, the most recent truly great horror film we’ve had.

I won’t say Sinister is an amazing horror movie because it treads over way-too-familiar territory, but it has a terrific ability to provide effective scares, it has a director that knows what he’s doing and an ideally cast lead actor that gives this awesomely moody performance. Yes, the dialogue is pretty bad and the pacing is off during the first hour or so, but just through the imagery and the relentless scare tactics this one throws at you it more than makes up for any fault in those aspects. Then there’s the climax, you may see it coming but you probably won’t be able to shake off the effect it had when you go back home.

Grade: B-

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