Having Directed the likes of The Exorcism of Emily Rose (which I quite like) and The Day the Earth Stood Still (I am blessed by the fact I have still yet to see this), Scott Derrickson’s next feature film stars Ethan Hawke as true crime writer Ellison Oswalt. Ellison moves his family (wife and two children) to the source of his next novel, a town in which a family of four were found hanging from a tree, whilst the youngest daughter, Stephanie, is missing. It is Ellison’s job to find out what happened to the little girl and her family.
After a trip to the attic (where else?), Ellison discovers a black box containing some super 8 home movies. However, these home videos are not movies of a two and half year old crying while his Nan sings Happy Birthday to his one year old brother. They are in fact images of murders of a number of families. From there on Ellison dives deep into a dangerous world.
Sinister is, by my money (the value of this money is not very high), an enjoyable horror flick. It starts well as the film relies on mood and atmosphere rather than cheap scares, of which the film would begin to rely on the longer the film plays on. However, it does start brilliantly, and the home videos do make for some chilling viewing. Just like Mark Lewis from Peeping Tom, the killer captures the killings, proving that the most frightening thing in the world is fear itself. It is these moments with Ellison and a series of disgusting filmstrips are when the film works wonders, like Ellison you are repulsed, but there is an feeling that, despite the horror, you just can’t look away. Naturally, the director leaves some of these more gory moments found the super 8 film filmstrips to the imagination, it is easy to work out from Ellison’s reaction that they are a rather grisly sight.
Storywise questions do arise, discussing them in any detail will give major plot elements away, but questions such as ‘Who’, ‘what’ and ‘why?’ are likely to be asked. I mean the first question is why did it start in the first place? It isn’t really answered (unless I missed it on a trip to the toilet). Sinister is on occasions rather stupid, you do begin to wonder why Ellison doesn’t turn on any of lights and you also feel that Ellison’s family would still be asleep if the house exploded. However, those things aside Sinister is good fun, Ethan Hawke does a respectable job in the lead role, Juliet Rylance is fine as his wife and the two kids (Claire Foley and Michael Hall D'Addario as Ashley and Trevor respectively) are alright. Questions marks do arise over James Ransone’s detective So and So, and Vincent D'Onofrio is somewhat wasted by only appearing on Skype.
While the mood of the film is one of its stronger points, the story itself is full of holes and, as the conclusion draws nearer, the film begins to rely on cheap jump scares. Some of these jump scares are well timed, but you do question whether it just sudden loud sound effects or actual terror that is making the viewer jump. The thing is, however, there are moments where the director has aimed for a cheap scare intensely solely for the audience and that feels like exactly what it is: cheap. Yet, it maintains an element of a foreboding mood, the mind flicks back to the images that it saw on those super 8 movies, and while perhaps you can predict the ending and work out who does what whom, you can have bit of fun along the way, and be generally creeped out by proceedings.