Friday, October 12, 2012

Sinister (2012) - Movie Review

Has anything good ever come from watching old home movies?

I don't know if you've watched the trailers for Sinister, but I advise against it.  The less you know about it, the more effective it will be.  I'll try to keep this short.

Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) is a true-crime novelist that has moved his family to a old house to investigate another unsolved crime for his next book.  His writing hasn't made him very popular with certain law enforcement types, which is something the local sheriff (former U.S. Senator Fred Dalton Thompson) makes very clear as he's moving in.  It's not so much a welcome to the neighborhood as it is a "Hey, I don't like you and I'd wish you'd leave."

As he's unpacking Ellison finds a mysterious box in the attic filled with old Super 8 reels.  I know what you're thinking, "Great, another found footage film."  The twist is that this is a film about the guy that actually finds the footage.  He watches the films and they all depict grisly murders of several families, and one happens to be the very family murder he came to write about.

The more he watches these videos, the more weird things happen in the house.  He starts seeing things and hearing sounds in the attic.  Is Ellison's mind playing tricks on him?  It's not just him though, as it appears to be having an effect on his kids (Clare Foley and Michael Hall D'Addario) as well.  You wonder why he doesn't just get his family out of there, and that's one of the flaws of Sinister.  It has a lot of the same conventions and bad decision making that plagues other films in the genre.  It bugged me a little less here than in other films though.  However, there are many times where he's investigating a sound late at night, and I'm wondering why doesn't he just turn the frigging lights on.

Ellison enlists the aid of a local deputy (James Ransone) and a college professor (Vincent D'Onofrio) to find out more about symbols involved in these murders and how they are all related.  When they first introduce the deputy, actually referred to as "Deputy So and So", he starts as a bumbling fan-boy of Ellison's, but develops into a bigger part of Ellison's investigation as the movie goes on and doesn't feel like a throwaway character.

The middle third of the film is where movie really shines as far scares.  Normally, I am not fan of jump scares in horror films, as I think they're cheap.  Lesser horror films don't do a good job of building tension or setting up its story, so it has to rely on bang moments to scare you. Sinister does a good job of creating a creepy atmosphere and a sense of mystery, which makes those scares more effective.  Even when I knew a scare was coming, I still jumped a little in my seat and laughed that the movie was able to get me.  There are lots of lingering images that gave me the chills, and sometimes the scariest stuff is when your imagination gets the better of you.

However, whether it was that the movie lost steam or you get desensitized to all the scares after a bit, I found myself less scared as we built towards the conclusion. The pacing could have been tightened up a little bit, which would have helped.  I liked how it ended, but was still kind of disappointed that it didn't quite have the impact it should have.

Another strength of Sinister is that the performances are strong and the dialog and characters are well-written.  Ethan Hawke does a good job as Ellison, and you understand his motivation, even once it's clear his family is at risk.  He thinks this book will be a big hit that will allow his family to live comfortably, but his wife (Juliet Rylance) just wishes he'd drop all this so they could live normal lives.  It's a character that normally you wouldn't like, but you still manage to root for him.

It also has some unexpected moments of humor that were a welcome break in the tension.  I gotta give it to writer C. Robert Cargill.  Some of you may know Cargill as "Carlyle" from  I was really interested to see what kind of movie a film critic would create.  Would he stay away from convention, and the types of things he would normally be critical of?  While there are some typical horror elements here and the third act was a little weak, overall I still think it's a strong effort and definitely better than most horror films I've seen recently.

Director Scott Derrickson (who also wrote the screenplay) hasn't had the best track record so far with movies, the recent The Day the Earth Stood Still remake and The Exorcism of Emily Rose, but this is a much better effort this time around.  He keeps the tension up for most of the film, and even the soundtrack adds to the ominous and eerie tone.

Sinister is the first genuinely scary movie I've seen in while, and this is coming from someone that watches a lot of horror movies.  It's has it's flaws, but if you're someone that likes getting the shit scared out of you, there's definitely some fun to be had here.  It's worth a matinee if you like horror.

3.5 (out of 5) Death Stars


  1. Good review Erik. Not as terrifying as I would have liked it to be, but still a pretty freaky movie that builds and builds up to a pretty intense ending.

    1. There were a few too many jump scares, but I thought it was mostly effective, and I did enjoy the atmosphere of the movie. If anything, at least it's better written than most movies in the genre.