Dir. Scott Derrickson
After opening with a Super8 film showing four people eerily hanged from a tree branch, Sinister lives up to its name; building tension constantly throughout the film. This is a movie which will scare not just the faint-hearted, but hardcore horror film fans too.
We follow Ellison Oswald (Ethan Hawke), a true-crime writer, in his quest to write the best book of its kind a decade and several flops since his bestselling ‘Kansas Blood’. Oswald moves his family close to former crime scenes, attempting to bring the case to light and to justice through his writing – a practice his wife does not like. Moving to a new location (that of the opening scene), she is unaware that they will be living in the house where his latest case occurred; a family was drugged and hanged, and one child went missing. Shortly after moving in, as Ellison commences research for his book, he discovers a box in the attic full of 8mm films containing different family outings, in different locations and times, ending with the families being brutally murdered. As Ellison starts to work out the connection between the murders, his own family becomes threatened by them.
We know from the beginning (and the title) that something bad will happen, though there is a constant motif of the promise of happiness. The children and Ellison’s wife don’t want to move, but he promises that the book he will write in the house will be a huge success: things will be better; he will make lots of money; they will live happily ever after. A family moving into a haunted house is by no means an original horror film plot, yet this film is an incredibly effective piece due to the director’s unique style and the incredibly frightening atmosphere he creates. More of a detective thriller than a slasher (thankfully), director Scott Derrickson manages to keep the film quite down-to-earth even when dealing with the supernatural, through careful cinematography, low-lighting, and the brilliantly menacing soundtrack of Christopher Young. The director also cleverly uses the 8mm films to portray murder in a hair-raising way.
The film is almost a one-man show, with Ethan Hawke looking old and tired as he portrays a has-been struggling with both his personal and professional life, as well as with the apparently haunted house. While Hawke (the only big name of the film) delivers a fine performance, the same cannot be said of the supporting cast, perhaps because their characters – as often in horror films – are poorly written. The dialogue, Sinister‘s biggest weakness, doesn’t help with character development either, seeming almost unnatural and unnecessary at times.
Sinister has a more interesting plot and style than most contemporary horror films. Though it may rely on its lead to carry the film, the thrills and kills along the way make this an exciting thriller which is satisfyingly scary without leaving the audience disturbed or sickened.