Director: Scott Derrickson
Writer: Scott Derrickson (screenplay), C. Robert Cargill (screenplay)
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Reylance, James Ransone
A true-crime writer moves into the house of his next work only to discover a grisly collection of super 8 footage depicting the murders of several families. Unbeknownst to him, he has unleashed a super natural entity unto his family.
When the first trailer for Sinister debuted earlier this year, the film came off as a refreshing breather to the horror genre. The last few years the horror genre has been dominated by horror icon reboots and found footage films, such as the Paranormal Activity series, and Sinister represented a change of pace. It didn’t come off as particularly revolutionary to the genre, but it piqued my interest with the story it was telling. It delves into the supernatural, but in a direction that hasn’t been done before. Would Sinister fall into the same trappings of its genre, or would it rise above and be a good film in its own right?
Sinister did rise above the standard fare of the horror genre and it wound up being a stand-out film. Now it’d be easy to describe it as an American Ringu, but that would be a disservice to the film. There are elements that make the films similar, but for the most part Sinister is a completely original film with its fare share of scares and thrills without heavily relying on the simple tactic of jump scares, which is one of the film’s stronger points. I’d say that the film only has a handful of them interspersed throughout, with much of the scares being left to the imagination of the audience. It’s a bonus when a movie gets me to scare myself, rather than relying on imagery on screen to do the job.
The biggest scare comes from the fact that you get to relate to the film’s lead character of Ellison (Ethan Hawke) and from the fact that you don’t want to see him die. You feared for his life because Ellison was a likable character that you learned to care for as the movie rolled along. He isn’t a cardboard cutout character that’s thrown into a disparaging situation; Ellison Oswalt is a down-on-his-luck writer clinging onto the last vestiges of long gone fame for a true crime novel he wrote ten years ago. Despite that, he is still a loving father and husband to his children and wife, and for a good early chunk of the film we get to see that. But it wasn’t just Ellison that we learned to care about, the film did a good job at developing his relationships with his wife and kids. They aren’t the central focus of the film, and more could have been done with them, but what was done was enough when considering that the journey of the film is told through Ellison.
That may also be a point at which Sinister will lose the audience. There was a lot of build-up in this movie, and during the first third when Ellison is still understanding the super 8 footage he’s found, there wasn’t a lot of dialogue to help break down what’s happening on screen. The audience was reduced to being on the same level as Ellison: speechless, and trying to figure out what exactly they are watching. It doesn’t help that at this point in the film Ellison only really has himself to talk to about the super 8 film footage. It isn’t until later on when he starts plunging head-first and deeper into the case that things begin to pick up. The film just took a while to get to this point.
Scares and character development aside, what really held the film together was its mystery element. The origins of the found footage and the meaning they hold are what keeps you interested and invested as you go along with Ellison for the ride. As the mystery becomes clearer and clearer, the danger to Ellison and his family grows larger and larger, and it became this extremely tense situation of seeing just how he will escape from the danger. I don’t want to reveal anything, but the ending of the film was a pretty good one, and it was one that fit into the context of the film and its story.
Sinister wound up being extremely entertaining and it is one of the more original horror films of late. It does wrap itself up pretty neatly, but it also has the potential to become a new franchise/series, and it would be something I would welcome as long as something new could be done with all the material that’s been set up. Sinister is a must see movie in my eyes and it’s supported by a great story and a great performance by Ethan Hawke.
GO Rating: 4/5