Sinister: A Review

I was not really impressed when I learned that Sinister was a production of the same team behind Insidious and Paranomal Activity. As many of you know, I am not a big fan of found footage cinema which seems to be the trademark of this team but I decided to give it a chance when I checked out its imdb rating (7.1)  and 75 percent fresh rating on I was glad I did because this movie truly clicked for me.

Sinister is the story of former bestselling true crime author Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke), who decides to move his family to the scene of a violent mass murder in the hopes of solving the mystery behind the victims’ missing daughter. While starting to do research on the family’s deaths, he finds a box of old home movies in the attic and finds footage not only of the family’s death but that of several other families. He also finds in the films the presence of a seemingly demonic individual (Mr. Boogie) whom he suspects is perpetrating the crimes. Desperate to return to the limelight with a new hit novel, he withholds the information from the police and begins to experience a malevolent presence in his new home, which is growing more aggressive as his obsession with the crimes grow more urgent.

For a low budget movie ($3 million), I must say that writer director Scott Derrickson and his team did a pretty good job in creating a rather formulaic yet unique horror spectacle that manages not to go overboard on the effects and relies mostly on ominous background scoring and perfect timing. I am happy to note that Sinister managed to bank on the strengths of Paranormal Activity and Insidious and create a perfect balance in the use of the techniques (read — great use of found footage) to reinforce the pace of the story. It also improved on Insidious’s execution as it created a perfect atmosphere with the lengthy pauses and scary background. Unlike Insidious though, it used the quiet period to build momentum for moments that would shock the audience. It repeats this same technique several times over the duration of the movie but surprisingly, even if one knows what to expect, it is still as effective every time.

A scene from the movie that made a grown man spill his popcorn at the theater due to shock.

The story was good. It knew where it wanted to take the story and it proceeded to do just that so by the end, one would get the full impact of the revelation like a kick to the stomach. Even the most seasoned horror fanatic would be creeped out by the culprit’s parting line.

I also liked that the setting hardly changed. So did Ethan Hawke’s wardrobe. In doing so, the filmmakers were able to establish a certain timeline and create the mood within the house and whatever is happening inside it. There were also attempts to mislead the audiences with fake suspects and events that may create a different impression from what is actually happening. And they were very effective.

With Ethan Hawke being the only recognizable actor in the movie, he did a really great job portraying the role of a man who had a taste of fame and would do anything to reclaim it. His character was flawed but audiences would still find themselves rooting for him to make his realization soon as his family becomes the target of the same culprit behind the earlier mass murders. He also had great support from other cast members but there really wasn’t much of them except for his immediate family — wife Tracy (Juliet Rylance), son Trevor who suffers from night terrors (Michal Hall D’Addario), daughter Ashley who paints disturbing images on her bedroom wall (Clare Foley) and Deputy So-and-So, a small town sheriff’s deputy who does Ellison’s legwork because he’s such a big fan (James Ransone).

All in all, Sinister, like its title, manages to serve up something that feels truly evil. In succeeds by improving on the execution of previous horror films of the same genre and delivers on the scares that the poster and the trailer promises. A great post Halloween watch.