Review – Sinister
2012, 110 mins, 15, Dir. Scott Derrickson, starring Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance and James Ransone
While I’m not generally a fan of the horror genre, I do have an interest in what comes over from other countries (I enjoyed The Orphanage) and in ‘classic’ films like Carrie and the original Halloween. But the idea of sitting in a cinema watching a contemporary American horror movie sounds like some sort of vengeful punishment by a studio that had read one of my reviews criticising their film. Nevertheless, I summoned what little courage I had for the screening of Sinister, something I had been motivated to see because of its above-average reviews from Film4’s Frightfest.
It’s the story of a true crime writer named Ellison (Hawke) who is trying to resurrect some of his previous success by profiling and writing about a missing girl. Unbeknownst to his wife and two children, he has moved into the house that the girl disappeared from. The tension is heightened when, after exploring the attic, Ellison unearths a projector and some old reels of film that show murders taking place – a discovery that intrigues his investigation yet puts him and his family in danger of a supernatural force.
I’m sure that the first question that most cinemagoers will bring to this is ‘Is it scary?’ Well, when you’re there, pretty much. Several times I found myself squirming in my seat, unused to this experience of waiting, trepidatiously, until something suddenly leaps out at you. There are genuinely moments, often unexpected, which will make you jump, and the Super 8mm films that our hapless character finds are supremely chilling. One of them opens the movie itself by depicting a group hanging; the lack of sound only adds to its sinister effect.
Director Scott Derrickson constructs the scares in a very familiar atmosphere, the suburban home, as the lines between reality and what Ellison is projecting onto a screen begin to merge. What’s interesting is that we never leave the house (or backyard) until the last ten minutes of the film; an intelligent decision confining us to the claustrophobic corridors and rooms of this entrapment until we are finally thrust in a different direction.
The problem lies with the main villain, the supernatural scare-point, which looks far too generic and refuses to stay long in the mind after viewing. I would always mark how scary something is by how much you imagine it in daily life to be hiding round corners; safe to say, I didn’t dwell on it very much. I was also left with a surprising coldness once the film had finished, as if it had just come, displayed some horrific things onscreen, and said goodbye. To an extent, this is what it does – not every horror film can have a socio-political message, but I just wanted it to make me think a little more.
Never mind. If it’s scares you’re looking for, Sinister has them, and genuinely does something interested with the tried, now maligned ‘found footage’ plot point.