Looking at this poster for Scott Derrickson’s latest fright flick “Sinister”, you can’t help but say “generic” because that’s exactly how it looks- creepy child with long hair smearing blood across a wall that just happens to form a demonic face. We’ve seen this been done hundreds upon thousands of millions of times and we are usually met with the expected predictability each time. So it was with this preconceived notion that I watched this apparent case of “been there, done that”…
Well, well, colour me claret.
This movie is pretty effing effective! To begin with, although the premise is one we all know, the execution of this film is what elevates it above other offerings of it’s ilk. Ethan Hawke plays Ellison Oswalt, a controversial true-crime novelist who is near the end of his professional tether, desperately searching for a why to bring himself back from the edge by writing what he hopes to be his magnum opus. He and his family move into a new house that just happens to have a violent history, something he conveniently neglects to tell his wife and children… although they find out soon enough, starting from when Ellison finds a nondescript book full of 8mm family movies in the house’s dark, loamy attic.
I can’t explain too much about the intricacies of the movie, but what I will say is that from the opening sequence, you will find yourself faced with the train-wreck predicament- you see an awful sight that you feel you want to look away but you can’t bring yourself to because it’s just so absorbing. When I saw that commencing salvo, “generic” was not the word that described what came to mind. It was more along the lines of “… fffffff…”. And the rest of the movie retains that sense of consistent dread and darkness thanks to an ingenious use of sound, imagery and set up that harkens back to old school David Lynch and the J-Horror “Ringu” without coming off as obnoxiously obvious, derivative or weak. There are jump scares, but they are done in a mature way that comes from an actual source rather than the quick cash-in sell out method we are all too used to seeing. Perhaps this isn’t particularly surprising considering Derrickson also helmed the equally effective “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”, but the way I consider the film is not unlike when you see those internet memes that say “Once you see it, you’ll shit bricks”, that when you first see an image it doesn’t quite register until you look at it again, and closer… which is when you will shit those proverbial bricks or real ones if your constitution isn’t the strongest. “Sinister” is indeed aptly named.
Ethan Hawke really carries this movie because of his performance. First and foremost he is a fallible human being who cares for his family but is also self-serving. He wants to provide for his wife and children, but you can see he wants to regain the glory he enjoyed in his early career because he is prepared to stoop to the lowest ethical denominator in order to write the story he wants, even though he knows he’s placing his family in an unenviable position. What is also great about his performance is that when he experiences the horrors that start to plague him, you can see the revulsion and compulsion in his eyes when it happens, a far better version of Jesse Spano’s “I’m soooo excited, I’m soooo excited, I’m so scaaaaaared!”. What Hawke makes his character feel is what we as the audience feel- we are right there with him, and like him, we see it whether we want to or not. I was also impressed by James Ransone who plays a deputy who could have come off as annoying and bumbling but is actually quite intelligent and likeable. Nice work!
Of course, this movie is not perfect (as all movies tend to be) and despite the fact the movie is handled very well, there are a few minor issues that took me out of what was going on. One part is actually shown in the trailer, so I wouldn’t consider this a spoiler, and it really came across as cheap and unnecessary. Hawke is looking at a distorted picture of what could be a demonic being and when he looks away from the screen, the image briefly turns it’s head to look at him before looking away again before Hawke returns his attention to it. That moment came across as very cheap because up until that point, the movie had been incredibly tense and ambiguous about whether or not the figure in the image was natural or supernatural. I literally said to myself “Oh, come on, you’re better than this “Sinister”, why did you go and do that?”. There was absolutely no logical reason for it other than to just give the less discriminating viewer a bit of a jolt. Considering how masterful the more frightening moments came in this movie, this particular moment was pretty lame because it made no sense and made no difference. I also felt the end act was a little too rushed. I know the movie didn’t want to draw itself out by placing contrivance upon contrivance, but the ultimate resolution, the penultimate moment was a little too sudden which makes the final moments feel a little too hurried to ensure a heavy impact on your mind. I can’t say much else because it may ruin a potential viewer’s enjoyment, but there are several dubious ambiguities that may or may not work for the film that involve the creepy children that are seen in the film’s trailer.
If you have seen this movie and want to discuss it, by all means, indulge me!
Apart from it’s flaws, “Sinister” is a highly respectable horror film that boasts stead-fast performances that is threaded by a wonderfully crafted execution of atmosphere and competent film making. Horror and suspense are two genres that are sadly underestimated and undercooked in this millennium and when film like this manages to rear it’s head, that mostly means it is worth the time to watch.
3.5/5 Mr. Boogie faces. Don’t know who Mr. Boogie is? Perhaps it’s best you don’t.
Review written by Bea Harper