Runtime: 1 HR, 50 MIN
Director: Scott Derrickson
Writers: Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, James Ransome, Michael Hall D’Addario, Clare Foley, Fred Dalton Thompson, and Vincent D’Onofrio
While found footage films continue to dominate the landscape of the horror genre perhaps audiences are beginning to shift their attention back to more conventional scary movies. Sinister is one such movie, it takes elements of conventional horror and mixes in a dash of found footage (almost literally) to create a creepy yet imperfect horror film.
True crime novelist Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) moves his family to a small town that was the home of a gruesome series of murders and a child disappearance. While still unpacking Ellison discovers a mysterious box in the attic containing an 8MM projector and film canisters labelled with double entendres. Upon watching the films Ellison unwittingly puts his family at risk as he unleashes a demonic presence that links his would be book to a series of murders dating back to the 1960s.
Sinister is enjoyable yet still rather forgettable. Seeing it once is enough, there are some films that you’ll get more out of each time you see it… Sinister isn’t one of those films. Its strengths lay in its cast led by Ethan Hawke, the cinematography, and sound design which are all above average for an October horror film.
Hawke’s presence in Sinister adds an extra level of acting skill and credibility to a film that could have been a run of the mill B-movie joke. He effectively plays the role of a conflicted man caught between his desire to provide for his family and his own demons surrounding his fall from grace and fame. Being able to convincingly convey the downward spiral this man goes through is key to grounding the supernatural plot to reality.
The majority of Sinister is spent with Ethan Hawke to the point where non of the supporting characters appear without him. In a trend I continue to not understand, Ellison’s wife Tracy (Juliet Rylance) is British. Her character is a dull, one-dimensional housewife so in exchange for her character not having any back story they make her English. Their kids aren’t terrible actors, so thankfully they didn’t ruin any scenes, but I wasn’t sure if their son was a boy or girl for quite a while. The rest of the cast is filled with a hodgepodge of actors, two of which you’d never expect to see in a horror film. First up is former Presidential candidate Fred Dalton Thompson in a small role as the town Sheriff. He’s perfectly fine, but I still can’t fathom for the life of me why’s he in this movie. The second surprising cast member is Vincent D’Onofrio in an uncredited performance. He only appears via webcam in a role that I almost hope he filmed from his own home. D’Onofrio and Hawke have worked together several times over the years so I can only assume that has something to do with his brief appearance.
Sinister isn’t a found footage film in the traditional sense, but it does incorporate elements of that sub genre into the film. Ellison literally finds a box of footage that opens up his family to the terrors held within. That allows for the film to rely on its other more conventional strengths… the cinematography and sound design. The found footage is creepy and well done, but unlike films like Paranormal Activity the filmmakers aren’t pigeonholed into staying within the confines of the found footage. Instead they’re able to create an increasingly creepy atmosphere by using a hybrid horror film integrating found footage with conventional horror techniques.
Where Sinister falls a bit flat is the same area that hurts a lot of horror films… logic or lack thereof. If you’re the real estate agent of a house where some grisly murders took place would you leave a glaring amount of evidence of the crime for potential buyers to look at? If your the wife of a true crime author would you ask some questions of him before moving to a new house in the town where an awful crime occurred? If you live in a house where strange, bizarre, and terrifying events keep occurring would go through the house night after night without ever turning on lights in any room? Sinister leaves you asking a lot of questions like that, and while Sinister is still enjoyable despite the lack of logic it does begin to hinder ones enjoyment a bit after a while.
While Sinister is better than most horror films it’s not a film that I think will have much replay value. Ethan Hawke provides a strong lead performance as he carries almost one-hundred percent of the film on his shoulders, and he’s supported by two interesting supporting actors in very small roles. The film also has a great look and gets some decent scares thanks to its sound design, but in the end a severe lack of common sense in the script slightly derails the experience.