“Hey, a family of four was just murdered in this house, why don’t we move in?”
I’ll be honest, I have never been a horror fan, and it’s not just because of the usual overabundance of stupid character decisions like the one above. I know some people adhere to the genre very strongly and see it as it’s own unique cinematic art form, but when it comes down to it I just don’t enjoy the experience of being scared by a movie. Aside from Jaws, Alien, and The Shining, I’ve never really seen a horror movie that has swayed me, but I do make an effort to give the genre a chance to change that from time to time. This time, that effort was directed towards Sinister, which unless I’m mistaken is the first Rotten Tomatoes “fresh” rated horror movie since last year’s Insidious. While it didn’t convert me to horror-fandom, Sinister is nevertheless one of the most sharply directed and efficiently scary movies I’ve seen in years.
Elliot Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) is getting desparate, both financially and creatively. A once successful true-crime writer, Elliot’s last hit is now 10 years in the rear-view mirror and his family is starting to feel the strain of his diminished success. So, when he finds a way to kill two birds with one stone (moving into a very cheap house and finding the inspiration for his next book), it seems almost too perfect. Almost. You see, the house is cheap because the inspiration for his new story happened in the back yard. Elliot is not one for superstition, however, and proceeds to move his wife (Juliet Rylance), Son (Michael Hall D’Addario) and daughter (Clare Foley) into the house without telling them what had happened there. While moving in, the mulish writer discovers a box of old Super 8 film in the Attic on which are filmed a gruesome series of family deaths. After first thinking that he has discovered some sort of elaborate killing spree spanning over four decades, Elliot is soon haunted by the image of a pale faced figure in each of the tapes and the possibility that his family is not alone in their new home.
While Elliot’s mindbogglingly bad decision making skills are no shock for a character in a horror movie, I did find it a lot more satisfying that his motivations were clearly laid out. He isn’t just some dumb college kid who stumbles around the entire movie just begging for the ax. Instead, we get the sense that Elliot recognizes the possible danger he has put his family in, yet is so bull headed in his focus on writing his book that he puts his wife and children’s safety second. I also enjoyed Rylance as his… I want to say British… wife. She isn’t given a huge amount to actually do, but her character is portrayed as loyal and patient yet understandably weary of her husband’s obsession. Not only that, but she confronts him when confrontation is due, and pushes the audience towards the realization that Elliot may claim to have a noble purpose in his writing but at the end of the day is only trying to hang on to his 15 minutes of fame.
I suppose it’s worth noting that Law & Order’s Fred Dalton Thomas shows up a few times as the town’s disapproving Sheriff, as well as Law & Order: CI’s Vincent D’Onofrio popping up via Skype as an expert in Crimes of the Occult. Neither of these amount to much more than cameos, but I guess a few “Hey, it’s that one guy from that one thing” moments in a movie like this can’t hurt.
It takes a little while to get there, but once it does, Sinister delivers in this department with extreme prejudice. The ancient evil that Elliot stumbles upon, a pale faced figure known as Bughuul or “Mr. Boogie”, sent chills down my spine with every appearance on screen, yet it isn’t that part of the film that really stuck with me. Sure, the building suspense and resulting “gotcha” moments are effective, but it is the brutal nature of the Super 8 films that filled that role. The movie itself starts with a painfully long clip of four hooded and noosed figures slowly being hanged from a tree by the counterweight of a large branch, and while that alone would have been enough to raise goosebumbs on my arms we soon have three separate tied-up families being burned, drowned, lawn-mowered and having their throats slit to really cement Sinister into my nightmares.
The Verdict: 7.5/10 Superior
I’d like to take a second to reiterate that I still do not like horror. Despite my score, if I had the choice between Sinister and a movie like Madagascar 3, God Bless America or The Amazing Spider-Man, I would chose one of the latter every time. That being said, I have always made a point of scoring movies by how well they achieve their intended purpose, and Sinister does that without a doubt. If that purpose (Scaring the shit out of you) isn’t up your alley then steer clear, but if so then I highly recommend you give Sinister a go in the dark, open environment of an all-but-empty movie theater like I did.
Fast Film Reviews: 4/5
PG Cooper’s Movie Reviews: 8.5/10
Dan the Man Movie Reviews: 7.0/10