Sinister (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Sinister (2012)

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Here's how I think Sinister came about:

Writer #1: I bet you I can write a horror movie which is 90% Ethan Hawke walking down a hallway.

Writer #2: Can you add in the voyeurism of the Paranormal Activity films and some suburban angst?

Writer #1: Sure. I'll even toss in an evil demon version of Russell Brand for free.

Writer #2: I think you may be in danger of making this movie far, far too scary.

Before you die, you have your .AVIs watch you back.

Sadly, it doesn't quite take full advantage of the "Russell Brand pops out of the corner of the screen every so often" fear factor, but that's just as well. Sinister is an effective creep show, showcasing the dangers of self destruction and, well, having kids.

It's got a father named Ellison Oswalt (Hawke) who can't keep a hold of himself. He hit it big with a true crime novel a decade ago, but since then his writing has been sloppier and even dangerously mistaken a few times. He takes his wife, son and daughter to a new town in hopes of reclaiming his former glory by moving into the house where a family was murdered and writing a book about it.

The previous tenants had been murdered by being hung by the bow of a big tree in the back yard. But that's the tip of the old horrifying iceberg as Ellison discovers a trove of old 8MM movies in the attic, each named after an innocent family past time and each containing a new grizzly murder of a happy looking family. Oh, and hey, is that a spooky ghost lurking in the back?

"Another film to watch? Where does the time go."

The supernatural elements are where the movie loses me, but I think that's my own skepticism overriding. Up until the introduction of the demon that does blah de blah, writer/director Scott Derrickson has etched out a rather wonderfully atmospheric tale something that's just strange (and haunting) enough to be true.

Derrickson certainly knows his way around the bad juju, and has previously helmed stuff like The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Hellraiser: Inferno (aka the only good Hellraiser film).

Here he punctuates the extended periods of horror [with ghosts] with extended periods of horror [with a family]. A son's unbeatable night terrors, a daughter who can't fit in, and a wife who wants her husband happy-- but desperately wants to remain oblivious to the horrors that he's delving into.

And that's the crux of the picture, with Ellison's drive to rediscover fame leaving him to willingly put his family in danger on more than a few occasions. Hawke plays him as a quiet, unnerved functioning drunkard with an arm's length of broken dreams. Through the ingenious use of old interviews at the height of Ellison's fame, we get to see him as he chooses the life he ended up with. It's casually implied that his decision to have kids and settle down is what led him to becoming a hack writer, and you can see in Hawke's haunted eyes that he's figured this out as well.

I think there's a subtext here about the difference between 8MM and digital, but that's a story for a different time.

The murders themselves (which the viewer is treated to the slow disturbing spectacle of) are all sick parodies of domesticity and suburban bliss, and we learn, in one painstakingly long in coming twist, that the horrors occur whenever the families upgrade their social standings. And the way the murders happen... okay, I'm trying to be oblique here, but it's about how the misery of suburban emptiness is generational.

Sacrificing your dreams and conforming to expectations is a sickness that rots marriages, ruins children, and may or may not bring out a psychotic Russell Brand demon who's ready for the kill.

There are some missteps along the way-- a creepy kid dream ballet that involves yet another trip with Hawke down a hallway lasted long enough to draw some chortles-- and it can't help but feel like a less imaginative version of Insidious from a while back.

But for fans of creepy, effective films, Derrickson has crafted a nice little thrill ride. I'd suggest seeing it during the day.

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Posted by Danny

Comments (3) Trackbacks (0)
  1. I was on the fence about seeing “Sinister;” I’m a fan of Ethan Hawke, and love that he has finally started doing horror movies. I was talking about seeing this movie with a co-worker from DISH, but I’m not sure I want to spend the movie to see this in theaters. Instead, I’m going to wait until this movie is released on DVD. I have a Blockbuster @home account, the shipping is fast, and when I’m done I can return this to the store for another movie in my queue. Even though this is the season for “found footage” horror films; I think this film may have a fan base that doesn’t revolve around a gimmick like other movies released this week.

  2. Good review Danny. I wasn’t shivering in my seat by everything that was going on, but I still enjoyed where the flick went with it’s creepy-self.

  3. At least Scott Derrickson should be proud of this movie: he tried hard to create something different, as he always has done in the past, and succeeded. Sinister is not flawless but builds something creepy inside the mindful spectator that is hard to shake off and forget. Cult movie.

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