If a scary movie is scary enough, it can sometimes overshadow minor gripes that might otherwise tarnish the overall product. Sinister is a perfect example of this, as the film isn’t without its flaws, and yet they’re forgivable because the movie is just damn scary.
This is greatly in part to the excellent ambiance and atmosphere writer/director Scott Derrickson created when making this film, with major assists going to his co-writer, C. Robert Cargill, cinematographer Chris Norr and editor Frederic Thoraval. Norr’s work helps create an eerie mood that lasts throughout the entire film, which helps give every moment an opportunity to fill the audience with a sense of uneasiness; which is perfect when you want to set up scares. Thoraval uses some perfectly time cuts and shots to really showcase the scares, making moments that would normally be simple scares and turns them into “jump” moments.
The story follows True-crime writer Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) as he moves his family into a house where a family was mysteriously murdered not even a year earlier. The reason he does this is so that he can completely immerse himself in the crime in hopes that he’ll be able to find something the local police may have missed, which in turn will help him break the case and gain national acclaim and publicity; something that happened with his first book but hasn’t happened with anything he’s written since.
His wife, Tracy (Juliet Rylance), is supportive, yet she’s growing tired of the constant moves and the mental and emotional toll each crime takes on not only Ellison, but also their two children Trevor (Michael Hall D’Addario) and Ashley (Clare Foley). Trevor suffers from night terrors, and both are picked on at school because of what their father does. Ellison realizes this and promises that this will be the book that delivers him to the promise land of fame and fortune, and they’ll be on easy street once he finishes it.
As they’re moving in, Ellison finds a mysterious box in the attic that has a film projector in it, as well as a handful of home movies in various marked film canisters, with titles such as “BBQ ‘79”, “Lawn Work ‘86” and “Sleepy Time ‘98”. As he watches the films, he realizes that they’re all murders of families that were filmed by an unknown source, one being the family whose house they just moved into.
As Ellison investigates these films strange things begin to occur, and the more he watches, the more unhinged he becomes. And yet, he can’t help himself as the mystery and the opportunity for him to find a relation and solve these cases is too great to resist. But when he does find a relation, it’s in the form of a demonic looking figure that appears in every video even though they were filmed decades apart. While this is the break he was looking for, it’s also the beginning of a nightmare scenario that’s worse than anything he could have imagined.
What’s so great about Sinister is that while it shows the creepy demonic villain in the home videos and in pictures Ellison prints out, it never overexposes him or makes him less creepy. This is a must for a film like this, as it’s so easy to become cheesy, or not scary whatsoever by giving the big bad too much screen time. This was a big issue with Guillermo del Toro’s “should have been scary, but wasn’t at all” Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark in 2010. Those demons became unthreatening so early on that it killed any suspense the film may have had going for it. That’s not the case here.
That’s not to say there aren’t some poorly made moments, as there are ghost children that run around at various points in the story, and their make-up job just looks b-movie level in the sense that it could come off as laughable. It’s not an easy task to pull off, I’m sure; however, a more ghostly look would’ve likely served them better, or at least a less obvious decaying make-up. Still, these moments are few and – well, not far between, as they all happen at roughly the same time – but they are few, which is a good thing.
Hawke does fantastic work here, really selling Ellison’s slow decent into a mix of madness and loss of sanity, intertwined with him snapping out of it long enough to constantly reassure his family that everything is alright, and he’s going to figure things out. The supporting cast also does good work here, really selling things at the right moments; however, this is Hawke’s show and he nails it.
Sinister is a downright scary movie that will haunt your thoughts long after it’s over. Derrickson delivers the goods in terms of atmosphere, and Hawke takes the film the rest of the way with spot on acting. If you’re in the mood for a chilling tale that will send chills right to your core, look no further than Sinister.
The video transfer of the film is fantastic, and it looks crisp and clean, with rich darks and shadows that really help capture the required ambiance and look the film needs to work. The audio mix also nails it, as it’s just as important in any film to help set the desired mood, and it hits it right on the head from start to finish.
Audio Commentary with Director Scott Derrickson – This commentary is just what would-be filmmakers out there will want to listen to. Derrickson delves into a lot of directorial issues, and touches on many different aspects of the filmmaking process that went into making Sinister.
Audio Commentary with Writers Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill – This commentary mixes more of the writing point of view for the story, as well as some more filmmaking quips from Derrickson along the way.
“True Crime Authors” Featurette – This piece runs at just over nine minutes in length and sees industry professionals talk about the genre in terms of books, and the authors involved in writing them.
“Living in a House of Death” Featurette – This extra takes a piece out of the film and talks about what it’s like to actually live in, or try and sell a house where grizzly murders have taken place. It’s just under 12 minutes in length, but it’s interesting and really shows how creepy it’d be to live in such a place.
Deleted Scenes – The usual is found here, all of which was rightfully tossed on the floor to keep up the film’s solid pacing.
If you’re looking for a movie that will scare you once the lights go out and the sun goes down, Sinister is that film. There are plenty of scares, shocks and downright creepy moments all wrapped up in its 110-minute runtime, and an overall satisfying feeling that will leave you wanting to come back for more…after you’re brave enough to turn out the lights once more, of course.
Alliance Films Presents in Association with IM Global Sinister. Directed by: Scott Derrickson. Written by: Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill. Starring: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, Fred Dalton Thompson, James Ransone, Michael Hall D’Addario, Clare Foley. Running time: 110 minutes. Rating: 14A. Released: Feb. 19, 2013. Available at Amazon.com.