Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Directed by Scott Derrickson

It's so hard to get horror right.

"Horror" is subjective. What scares one person won't always scare another. But there is a basic structure and format to good, effective horror that when it's done right, it can send chills up the spine of even the most cynical of fans.

SINISTER is the horror film to beat this year. The year isn't over yet, but I'll go out on a limb and say that SINISTER is the scariest film of 2012. The film is brought to us by producer Jason Blum, who also produces the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY films and INSIDIOUS. He's pretty much got this thing down to a science at this point. He's even opening his own haunted house in California.

SINISTER, however, is on another level though. The PA films, and INSIDIOUS, while both containing scares, also have a level of fun silliness to them. They're like haunted houses at carnivals. You get a good scare or two, then you walk out laughing.

SINISTER isn't interested in giving you a chuckle. It wants you to leave the theater shaken. And it succeeds.

The story is about true crime writer Ellison, played by Ethan Hawke. Ten years ago he had a big hit with his true crime book "Kentucky Blood." However, ever since then, he's been chasing glory. His other books have failed, and one book even ended up helping a real killer go free.

Ellison desperately wants to recapture his fame and fortune, and he thinks he knows just how to do it. He moves his wife and children into a new house, and not just any house. As we see at the beginning of the film, in chilling detail, the house was the scene of a murder. A family was hung from a tree in the yard, and their daughter went missing. The crime was never solved.

Ellison doesn't tell his family they just moved into a murder house. He knows his wife Tracy (Juliet Rylance) will freak out--and rightfully so. So he keeps everyone in the dark as he goes about trying to solve the mystery.

However, the first night in the house, Ellison finds a box marked HOME MOVIES in the attic. The box contains film canisters as well as a Super 8 projector. He sets up a theater in his office and watches.

To his horror he discovers the films contain not only the murders of the family that lived in his house, but several other murders spread across the years. He does some digging and discovers that all the murders are similar in that they involve families killed, and one of the children missing.

This should be enough to freak anyone out, but Ellison also begins hearing strange bumps in the night. His son begins experiencing intense night terrors. His daughter draws pictures of dead girls. Scorpions, snakes and a mean looking dog invade his property. And then he notices a strange, ghoulish figure appearing in the snuff films. With the help of a local professor (played by Vincent D'Onofrio, who literally Skype's his performance in), he believes this figure might be an ancient deity named Bagul; a nasty monster who eats the souls of children.

There's a lot more going on here, but to tell you would spoil the fun. And by fun I mean dread and terror.

SINISTER is relentless in its goal to scare you. There are moments of levity here and there, but for the most part, SINISTER wants to make you uncomfortable. From its weird, jarring and haunting score to the brutal snuff films Ellison watches almost nightly, SINISTER takes hold of your nerves and pulls them in every direction possible.

Hawke does a great job carrying the film. His character, when you get right down to it, is kind of an asshole, but Hawke makes him likable and believable. His family could've been a bit more fleshed out, especially his wife, who spends most of the film either chastising Ellison or the children. But these are minor flaws and come nowhere close to derailing the story, as the film is really about Ellison and his own personal descent into terror and doubt.

Director Scott Derrickson, who has had a very spotty film career up till now, does his best work ever here. He's able to fill every angle, every shot with almost overwhelming dread. There's nothing outwardly scary about the house Ellison and his family move into, but with impenetrable darkness and shadows lurking at night, Derrickson is able to convey real unrest and unease.

The script, by Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill, is filled to the brim with creepy ideas. The writers know exactly what scares people, and they throw everything they can think of right at the audience.

SINISTER will be released wide on October 12th. It's a perfect movie for Halloween season. It's the type of horror movie that sticks with you; that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up as you watch it.

It's the type of horror movie that haunts you long after you've gone home from the theater, gotten into bed, and turned off all the lights.

1 comment:

  1. Not perfect as a stand-alone horror flick, but a perfect flick to watch around Halloween because it’s just scary enough to fully hit us with that spooky feeling. Watching Ethan Hawke run around in a scared daze actually made me more scared believe it or not. Great review Chris.