Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sinister (2012)

Director: Scott Derrickson
Notable Cast: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, James Ransone, Vincent D'Onofrio

At first, I struggled with "Sinister." The hype machine, once again, overworked this film claiming it to be 'the scariest movie ever' in many ways and, once again, the film has trouble living up to those claims. I'm not particular to blame "Sinister" for this as it was a very scary film judging from the packed audience's reactions around me and its easily one of the best 'mainstream' horror films I've seen in quite some time. It's hard not to be somewhat disappointed though as I desperately wanted "Sinister" to redefine modern horror instead of retread many concepts and ideas that have been done before.

Ellison Oswalt (Hawke) is looking for his next big true crime novel and one that redefines his career. Much to his family's chagrin, he moves them into the house of a previously murdered family where one of the daughters had gone missing just the year prior. They don't know it, but Ellison is looking to dive right into the mystery. When he discovers a black box marked 'home movies' in the attic featuring a handful of super 8 recordings marked with everyday activities, he discovers that each of these is a filmed account of a family being massacred - including the one he is investigating. Now he has stumbled upon something much larger, something much more ancient, and something much more sinister than he ever imagined.

I've never seen Ethan Hawke in more sweaters in my life.
Believe it or not, I had high hopes for Scott Derrickson pulling "Sinister" off. He was due for another great film after mediocre efforts in "The Exorcism Of Emily Rose" and the remake of "The Day The Earth Stood Still." Yes, that means I considered "Hellraiser: Inferno" a great film and still do (Click here for my reasons) and "Sinister" was the proper follow up.

As for the movie itself, "Sinister" is extremely well executed. The atmosphere is palpable in how heavily they craft it to be and the score that accompanies so many of these great scare sequences is jaw dropping. Derrickson's use of light and sound is creative, making with the sound of running film now something to fear and the light from an cell phone a poor choice when the power goes out. "Sinister" even pulls off portions of 'found footage' horror quite ably as each successive film that our lead character watches ratchets up the extremity of violence and scares, culminating in a final film about lawn care that had the audience shrieking. This is all built on a foundation of very impressive performances and realistic tones/characters whose flaws and detailing made us care deeply for their well being and how this tale of terror plays out. In so many ways, the execution of "Sinister" is the highlight of how great Hollywood horror needs to be done in the future.

"Shhhhhh. And turn off your damn cell phone. Yeah. You. In the sixth row."
So why the disappointment you ask, considering all the massive praise I just poured out about Derrickson's damn near brilliant directing and those stunning performances? Too often "Sinister" left me feeling a bit underwhelmed story wise. With some stunningly well set up jump scares and a uniquely built antagonist in this mysterious monster man, one would expect the rest of the film to follow suit and add some killer twists. Not necessarily the case with "Sinister." Half of the time I kept thinking that the film was essentially a combination of "The Ring" and "Insidious", it essentially was, and the twist in its finale was pretty predictable with the blatant clues given in the first half of the film. I won't give it away, but they essentially tell you how its going to go and then expect you to forget like the characters do so that the ending comes as a shock. Perhaps I was in the minority of not being fooled so easily, but it's hard not to feel disappointed in that sense.

All in all, "Sinister" was a very impressive Hollywood mainstream horror film. The atmosphere is thick, the scares and brutal, and the on screen execution from the director and actors is strong. The script and story it's built on just happens to not be the original and smart concept I was hoping for that would break the mold. It occasionally falls into cliche pitfalls for its scares (if the power goes out...get a damn flashlight) and it undermines the entire experience. For Hollywood its damn impressive and still going to be one of my favorites of 2012, but I'm hoping that the eventual sequel takes it to that next level.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

1 comment:

  1. It's not as freaky as I would have liked it to be, but with a moody atmosphere, it still delivers the goods on being scary in the right way a horror movie should. Great review.