Sinister is good, inventive horror. You might not have given it a moment’s thought, what with the large amount of generic, unsatisfying films of the same genre being released over the past year (House at the End of the Street, The Possession, The Pact, Chernobyl Diaries, etc). You might not have given it the time of day if it walked up to you in the street. But please, give this one a chance.
Sinister starts, rather brilliantly, with four people, paper bags over their heads and nooses around their necks, standing below a tree. And something is moving over to the right of the screen – it’s a saw, and as soon as it cuts through the branch, a mechanism is triggered that slowly lifts the four wriggling bodies off the ground by their necks…
Ethan Hawke (star of Gattaca, Before Sunset and vampire thriller Daybreakers) plays a struggling author – complete with cardigan, slippers and reading glasses – who doesn’t just write crime fiction, he writes real crime; unsolved child murders in particular. His books attempt to piece together the events, highlighting mistakes that were made in the investigations (making him very unpopular with the police) and this time, he and his family have moved to a new house; a house where the previous family were murdered (although only Ethan knows this – he wants to use it as the setting for his next bestseller). After arriving, he finds a box in the attic containing a projector and several super-8 films, with labels like ‘Family BBQ’ and ‘Sleepy Time’. Intrigued, he watches them late at night, only to discover that they show different families being murdered in various horrible scenarios, and the only thing that links them together is a mysterious symbol that appears on the wall in every film. To top this off, his son Trevor is experiencing night terrors and his daughter Ashley has started drawing on the walls. What does this all mean?
Writer and director Scott Derrickson (previous films include The Day the Earth Stood Still remake, The Exorcism of Emily Rose and the fourth Hellraiser sequel) really seems to know what he’s doing with this one. The writing is noticeably realistic, especially the husband-wife arguments, which are some of the best scenes in the film. Ethan Hawke and Juliet Rylance’s onscreen relationship at times keeps the film firmly on track; believable and absorbing, as is the performance of up-and-coming child actor Michael Hall D’Addario as the long-haired, rebellious 12-year-old.
Dialogue and performances aside however, the ‘death-tapes’ are where Derrickson’s genius really comes into play. Each super-8 is like a horror short, perfectly crafted with their own suitably terrifying soundtrack, and because they’re mostly spread out over the whole film, you’ll find yourself anticipating the next one, wanting to know how the next family will die (not for pleasure of course – simply curiosity).
It’s the plot, too, that shakes you up and down: unguessable at times, with a few moments that will produce screams throughout the cinema. As mentioned before, most people will be tempted to just shove Sinister into the bin of disappointing horror films; ones that attempt to use modern technology to give them an ‘edge’, but this one does it quite well – you won’t want to use laptops and film projectors in dark rooms for a long, long time.
Sinister is just a very enjoyable, satisfying horror that looks great and will give you far more than you expected – what more can be said?