Film Review: Sinister
From director Scott Derrickson, who scored a previous horror hit with The Exorcism of Emily Rose back in 2005, comes Sinister, a film about true crime writer Ellison (a decent but unspectacular Ethan Hawke), who moves in with his wife (melodramatic Juliet Rylance) and two children to a house where, unbeknownst to all but Ellison, a grisly murder and disappearance of a young girl took place. Searching the attic, Ellison finds an old projection reel and home videos, on which he sees horrific, disturbing murders. Soon, Ellison begins to discover the truth of the films, the house, and the supernatural events that are occurring…
The main problem with Sinister is that its tone constantly shifts as the film tries to decide what it actually wants to be. In the early stages of the film, as Ellison studies the creepy old films and researches the murders, Sinister appears to be a rather interesting psychological thriller about an alcoholic, washed up writer who may or may not be imagining strange occurrences in his house. Sadly, it forgets about that towards the end and becomes a standard haunted house thriller, with mostly predictable jumps (although there’s one scene in the attic which will get you). Luckily though, and somewhat surprisingly, Sinister has some genuine creeps and haunting imagery which do put it a cut above the standard mainstream horror fare.
Opening with a disturbing image of a family being hung from a tree, the use of old film reels is a really nice touch, and offers the real chills. There’s some vaguely Giallo referencing killer POV with the camera, a phenomenal jump scare with a lawnmower (one of the best ever, even though you know what will happen) and generally upsetting and unpleasant videos of families being murdered. It’s just a shame, as mentioned before, that the film dispenses with subtle chills (a killer with a haunting face, a computer image coming to life) and brings on as many ‘quiet moment-LOUD MOMENT’ jumps as possible. Sure, they do work mostly, and the final shot manages to get you, but Sinister houses at least one shock that was yawn inducing in its predictability.
Compared with most mainstream horror releases of 2012, Sinister manages to stand out as one of the scariest. It’s occasionally very predictable, and Derrickson mostly plays it disappointingly safe, but through memorably brutal imagery, at least two great jump scares, and a nasty, unfair ending, Sinister at least tries something different, and mostly succeeds, making it a very enjoyable, if flawed, experience.
By Harry Ford