If you discover that a murder occurred in your home, the first thing you want to do is leave. This is nature. Tell that to Ellison Oswalt. Oswalt is a true-crime writer who, instead of running from the victims’ home, runs to their home, bringing his family, in order to have a mental status of the surroundings and content of the book he is writing. Sounds logical. Oswalt, however, has no clue what he is in for when he travels to a small forested town to investigate the murders of the family that previously lived there. He finds a box in the attic filled with Super 8 films of random family gatherings that date back to the 60’s. What he finds within the tapes may link all the families with the family of his investigation. It may also reveal the killer, who may actually be more sinister than he could ever expect.
Let me start this review by saying that Sinister has been on my to-see-list since early in the year. You may ask why. Over the past few years only a couple horror movies (Drag Me To Hell, Insidious) have actually managed to scare me all while being well filmed and acted. While The Possession was a decent horror movie to come out this year, we have had our fair share of atrocious ones (The Devil Inside, ugh). So what attracted me to Sinister? Well, for one, Ethan Hawke. Hawke is an incredibly underrated actor who usually never associates himself with garbage; horror movie garbage at that. Another interesting aspect was the directing choice. The Exorcism of Emily Rose director Scott Derrickson signed on to direct, which is a giant marketing boost for the film, given that Emily Rose was an incredibly creepy film. So, how was Sinister? Well, to put it simply, it is the most well crafted, creepily atmospheric, and disturbingly original horror film I have seen in years.
I go into horror films with a weak mindset, never expecting anything more than mediocre. I knew going into Sinister that it was something special, but I try to expect the least so the surprise is that much more exciting. Were there flaws? Yes. The film often falls back on typical horror movie clichés. (An example would be someone going outside and finding nothing there, then going back inside, realizing he/she forgot something, then is forced to go back outside only to find something horrifying). We see this in many horror films. Also, there is a really corny moment in the film (if you have seen the trailer, it involes a computer screen), and it felt really unnecessary and implausable for the overall film. But be warned, if you have seen The Cabin in the Woods and you are wondering if Sinister is the type of film Cabin is making fun of, the answer is a resounding no.
Ethan Hawke does a great job in the leading role here offering a terrific blend of bravery, fear, and, often times, humor. The supporting cast is also great, excluding James Ransone, who plays a young police detective that often times strikes a good balance of humor, while other times becoming increasingly annoying. Scott Derrickson does a terrific job of directing the film and, even though it does have a few pacing issues, the visuals, atmosphere, and cinematography are nothing short of astounding.
Although this is a horror movie, I was greatly surprised by the amount of impressive camerawork and cinematography I was experiencing. Crisp visuals mixed with an impressively effective score even made the short clips of Oswalt putting film onto the projector captivating. The character of Bagul is nothing short of creepy and even though his face may not be the most artistic face in horror movie history, it is that simple fact that makes him intimidating. You don’t know if he is a masked man, a ghost, or a demon. All you know is that he has a simplistically evil countenance, and that alone makes you shutter. Along with Bagul and his undeniable creepiness, the film sets the tone from its opening shot to the rolling credits, and never lets up. I am not exaggerating when I say the opening shot. The opening shot of Sinister is the best opening to a film I have seen all year; it is impeccably disturbing, leaving you pinned to your seat for its entirety. When it ends, its difficult to catch your breath.
I recommend any horror movie lover, and film lover in general, to see Sinister. It is an astonishing, horrifying, character driven, creepily atmospheric, and a surprisingly well written, acted, and directed horror piece.
Run Time: 110 mins
Rated: R for disturbing violent images and some terror
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, Fred Dalton Thompson, James Ransone, Michael Hall D’Addario, Clare Foley, and Nicholas King
Writer(s): Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill
Director(s): Scott Derickson