Sinister is an effective supernatural horror movie—one of the best since The Ring—that puts a clever twist on the found footage horror trend to deliver a terrifying cinematic experience. Though it ultimately devolves into cliché the filmmakers inject a healthy dose of dread, toying with their audience and their expectations. Atmospheric and dark, Sinister is exactly what the doctor ordered.
Ethan Hawke stars as Ellison Oswalt, a true-crime novelist who has hit hard times since his biggest hit some 15 years ago. When he learns about a strange unsolved murder—the hanging of a family that leaves their girl missing—he uproots his own family to the small Pennsylvania town where the victims lived. The same house in fact. Strange things begin happening after Ellison views some home movies he finds in the attic, depicting sadistic Saw-like murders, and a growing sense of dread that his family is in the crosshairs.
Writer/director Scott Derrickson starts with a wonderful premise and does fine work setting up his scene, though the dialogue is clichéd and very stiff, delivered by one-note characters that are little more than exposition machines and plot points. But you’re not going to a horror movie for the drama, you’re there to be frightened and there is plenty of that to be found. What’s best is that Derrickson balances scares with terror, two very distinct styles that are often out-of-balance. Sinister toys with viewer emotion, giving long stretches of crawl-out-of-your-skin dread and rewarding you with moments of stillness, only to have something go bang. The latter is a cheap technique overused by lesser filmmakers, here Derrickson uses it sparingly and to great effect.
I came back to a deserted office after watching Sinister and was rewarded with a continued sense that something was watching me, the sort of feeling you want after a flick like this. There are many shortcomings in Sinister, like the thin characters and the devolution to clichéd scares in the second half, which spoils a good deal of the premise of the movie—a writer uncovering a mystery that he finds himself at the center of—but there is enough left to recommend the film to people looking for a fright.
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