20 May 2024

Frightfest 2012: Sinister Review

The “found footage” flick. Possibly the most derided genre of horror, even more so than the slasher movie these days. With film after film seeing light of day via DVD you’d think found footage films are heading for burn out. But then along comes Sinister. Playing on the “found footage” conceit, the movie is however less a found footage film than a film about found footage.

If Paranormal Activity and Insidious captured the imaginations of cinema audiences everywhere then Sinister is surely set to do the same. With a similar “found footage meets haunted house” premise to the aforementioned films, the movie tells the story of true-crime writer Ellison who, desperate to repeat the success of his earlier work, moves his family into a home where a horrific quadruple homicide took place (footage of which opens the film in a stunning fashion). Of course Ellison doesn’t tell his wife and kids the truth about their new home, however it doesn’t take too long for them to find out… Discovering a box of ‘home movies’ in the attic, Ellison spins the Super 8 reels, sitting stunned as the gruesome murder footage plays out. As he comes to realise that the murder he is investigating goes a lot further than just his house, he also realises the toll his investigation may take on his family.

When it comes to horror movies everything has already been done, from slasher movies to found footage films there really is nothing new under the sun. So it takes a lot for any new movie to feel refreshing and new. Thankfully Sinister is one such film.

Directed by Scott Derrickson, who was responsible for the better than average The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Sinister is a masterpiece film-making; not only playing on genre tropes but using them to spectacular effect. From the grindhouse style Super 8 footage of the grisly murders, to the creepy haunted house bangs and bumps, we’ve seen it all before but here it works – so much so that it made even this horror fan jump out of his seat a couple of times! Best of all the script, by director Derrickson and film critic C. Robert Cargill (aka Massawyrm from Ain’t It Cool News), doesn’t treat the audience like idiots. Characters spout lines that the audience are thinking and just when the events reach a terrifying crescendo Ellison moves his family out of the house! If you’ve ever seen a haunted house film you’ll know the feeling of shouting at the screen, almost begging the characters to movie out – here they do. It’s a very small thing but it’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the nuances found in the films fantastic script.

Ethan Hawke gives an astonishingly strong performance as crime writer Ellison, a man whose behaviour is less than exemplary. He lies (and keeps lying) to his family about the house; he lies about why, as his family falls apart, he is really forcing them to stay; and he lies to himself about his real motivations – money and fame rather than trying to solve the crime. However despite all that Hawke manages to imbue Ellison with a likeability – after all deep down he’s a man who’s only trying to provide for his family the way he knows how. Hawke’s performance also goes a long way to convince the audience of the believability of the more supernatural aspects of Sinister.

Speaking of which, the films “villain” Mr. Boogie, is on the surface yet another stereotypical movie boogeyman but between the skillful way in which the character is revealed, and later his true ideology, the cliche of a “boogeyman” can quickly been forgiven. Especially given the movies stunning final twist…

Sinister really is one of the best, and scariest, American horror films I’ve seen in years. Someone give Derrickson and Cargill the greenlight to make another – I’ll be first in the queue.

This was a review by Phil at Blogomatic3000

UK Release Date: 28th August 2012 (Frightfest) 5th October 2012 (UK&Irish cinema release)
Directed by:Scott Derrickson
Cast:Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Clare Foley, Juliet Rylance,

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