Sinister: B-Grade Horror
I’ll start with the bad news: Sinister is yet another in a seemingly endless series of horror movies based around some obscure possession with a silly name dug out from the history books. It even mixes in the already-tired subgenre of found-footage horror in order to really cover all the familiar bases.
The good news is that it’s one of the stronger entries in the genre in recent memory, a boogeyman story (pretty much literally) that actually builds tension through mood and an interesting lead character, rather than ridiculous mewling children contorting themselves every which way.
Ethan Hawke plays a washed-up true crime writer who’s trying desperately to come back after a couple of flops and a scandal that saw him involved in freeing a convicted killer. Working on a new book about a family found hanging from a tree in their own backyard, he moves his wife and children into the actual murder house without telling them. He’s barely settled in when he finds a box of film reels that appear to contain a series of murders, presided over by a weird boogeyman who looks like a cross between Saw’s Jigsaw and Jack White.
Despite the fact that this is seriously fucking up his life and driving his family crazy, the fame-starved and petty Hawke refuses to let the case go, and burrows deeper and deeper into obsession… an obsession that will probably turn deadly (this movie is called Sinister, after all, not Googling Murders All Night).
Although its scares are strictly of the things-that-go-bump-in-the-night variety, Sinister stands above the heap by refusing to hold the viewer’s hand throughout. It develops slowly, almost completely avoids crapping out all of its exposition in the first 10 minutes (although said exposition comes courtesy of a Skype cameo by Vincent D’Onofrio) and builds an actual sense of dread and foreboding. It’s a pity that said sense of dread and foreboding doesn’t hide the fact that you’ll see the outcome coming from a mile away, and that the film could use about 20 less minutes of Hawke stalking around his attic in his pyjamas.
Even with its sizeable flaws, Sinister is one of the better studio horror flicks to come out in some time. Hawke is a surprisingly believable lead, managing to make an unlikeable character compelling, and director Scott Derrickson manages to use the limited locations (the film pretty much stays in one place throughout) to his advantage. It’s a pleasant surprise in a sea of similar-looking, similar-sounding horror movies. ■
Sinister opens Oct. 12