Ten months into October, and there has only been about two good horror movies all year. Wherever the blame lies, whether with Hollywood’s inability to scare or the audience’s exceedingly low standards, it’s easy to see that horror movies just aren’t what they used to be. The evolution of the genre has led to both standout, exemplary titles and degrading, insulting trainwrecks.
The shining example that more than a few people go to is last year’s Insidious. With a budget barely breaking the millions, this was a horror film that broke the norm by making effective use of atmosphere and a chillingly unique plot. Since that movie was released, though, the genre has been pretty barren. Leave it up to a film with a strikingly similar name to shake things up a bit.
Sinister has built up a considerable amount of buzz in the horror community, which is no small feat. Luckily, the hype is deserved, as Sinister proves that going out on a limb with a new idea can lead to some fantastic results.
True crime writer Ellison Osborne (Ethan Hawke) moves his family out to a new house in rural Pennsylvania, hoping to recapture the fame and fortune he achieved ten years earlier. The house he chooses to reside in happens to be the one where a horrendous murder took place, one which you will see in graphic detail multiple times. Ellison soon uncovers a box filled with home videos that detail disturbingly violent murders of various families. As he begins to investigate the links behind the deaths, Ellison becomes more and more obsessed with the tapes, eventually incurring the wrath of a being more terrifying than he could imagine.
Let it be said that the advertisements don’t do Sinister any justice at all. Although the film is portrayed as flat out, laxative-substituting horror, there is a much deeper aspect at play. Rather than halfheartedly slopping together a scenario and then wringing out every cheap scare possible, writer/director Scott Derrickson presents a story that is fully engrossing. I haven’t been this drawn into a plot in a long while, and the mystery hanging over the family’s head is one that is thrill to work through.
The amount of quality found in various aspects of the film give it a full, meaty feeling. Sinister feels like a full movie that delivers where it matters, although the few present shortcomings worm their way into the ending. Ethan Hawke‘s performance helps to anchor the (sometimes) ridiculous plot that’s unfolding on the screen, but everybody else in the film plays second fiddle for good. His wife (Juliet Rylance) is the typical doubting yet supportive wife, while the children are merely background cutouts. But Hawke has a face that can convey any emotion believably, and audiences will most likely be making similar faces to his as they watch the home videos.
Oh, those videos. Unless you are made of the hardest stone, these tapes will disturb you to your core. The voyeuristic nature behind these killings leave you feeling completely helpless, and as graphic as they are, eyes will be glued to the screen. Just like Ellison, you will be repulsed by the murders, but there is no possible way to stop watching. Derrickson makes sure the audience is mirroring Ellison’s obsession, and that goes a long way to drawing us into the film.
Those expecting a straight-ahead, obvious horror film will only be half satisfied. Although Sinister feels like a mystery, there are many scenes that work in horror aspects, most of which tend to be sudden jump scares that don’t add to the mood that has been established. If anything, many of these scares detract from what the film is working towards, insulting the audience it was just sharing a terrifying experience with.
The ending will also leave audiences split into those who love it or hate it. Although the climax is satisfying, it asks too many questions and leaves even more unanswered, which is frustrating. Obviously there will be no spoilers here, but debates over the ending will rage on for days after the movie ends.
Much of the credit for making Sinister effectively…well…sinister goes to the score that forms the backbone of the film. The urgent drum beats and staccato electronics juxtapose the calm, serene score that plays through the videos perfectly. That false sense of security that settles in is so quickly and violently done away with that it’s nearly impossible to remain comfortable throughout the film. It makes sure to avoid the loud, high pitched notes at every jump scare, which is more than commendable.
Director Scott Derrickson, whose The Exorcism of Emily Rose remains one of my favorite recent horror movies, takes the reins with a style that works to separate him from the rest of the group. He has a flair for shots that will have you checking over your shoulder at all times, and he wrings every ounce of creepiness he can out of the home videos.
Even though Sinister isn’t the scariest of them all, it manages to do what any great horror film should aspire to do: leave audiences disturbed. There are scenes in this film that I will never forget (one in particular involves a lawn mower), as they did more than spray blood on the camera. Films such as Sinister create hope for this generation of horror, as it proves that there is still originality and, more importantly, scares left to be had. This movie will leave you with your jaw dropped and your dreams haunted.