Sinister is a prime example of a film whose legacy lives in its trailer. Upon first seeing the trailer, my interest was piqued. After watching it again I was genuinely creeped out, and after a third time I was hooked and making a big to do on Facebook with fellow friends who found intrigue in the spine tingling trailer. The day to see it arrived, yet my confidence that Sinister would exceed my high expectations started to wane when word of mouth revealed that its ending was its downfall; also its tomatometer rating dropped dramatically from an impressive 90% prior to its release down to 63%. Still, my crew of horror film enthusiasts and I labored on excited to possibly piss our pants, or at least get our hearts pounding, in unadulterated fear. Out of our group, only one experienced the coveted reaction we craved while the rest of us sat coldly attempting to understand what was taking place before us.
Sinister tries, it really does and its efforts shouldn’t go unnoticed. Director and screenplay writer Scott Derrickson attempts to make an innovative work of art and his labor of love shows. Sinister is beautifully filmed, complete with dark, brooding colors that look sharp and clean. Also the revisiting of super 8 film stock is authenticity saturated and perfectly imperfect making the moments shot with super 8 film ominous and creepy. The camera often fluidly weaves back and forth through scenes, swiveling around to show situations and traveling at nearly eye level with characters placing viewers front and center in the actions taking place before us.
Derrickson even tries as a writer to make a horror film with some meat on its bones. Sinister isn’t just a horror film, it’s more so a family drama as it follows the Oswalt family’s move into a new home at the behest of Ellison(a fabulous Ethan Hawke), a struggling True Crime author desperate for one last hurrah and touch of fame after writing a hit ten years prior. Ellison has moved his wife and two kids into a house that will serve as inspiration for his newest novel that chronicles the brutal hanging of four family members and the disappearance of their youngest daughter. However, unbeknownst to his family, Ellison has broken a major taboo, knowingly moving his family into the home where the murders took place. Ellison soon uncovers a box of Super 8 home movies depicting the gruesome murders of not just the previous family of the home, but of several others. Desperate for his time to shine, Ellison decides to uncover the mysterious deaths as well as the recurring image of a creepy figure, Buguul, featured throughout all the videos.
Sinister is slightly creepy thanks Derrickson’s deliberate movement of the camera and his use of intense tight close ups, along with Christopher Young’s industrial and jarring score that plays during unconventional moments often cutting off short leaving audiences with silence and air of discomfort. However, Sinister just doesn’t reach a level of scary as ultimately nothing happens until the film’s final act and what a disappointing final act it is. Sinister’s major problem is that Derrickson spends most of the film developing the family and not the horror. This would be fine, if I had been excited for and dragged my ass to a melodrama, but I came to see a horror film and it seems that Derrickson mostly forgot he was making a horror film until the last part of the film and by that time we’ve been set up with all this family drama that Buguul’s presence is confusing and unwarranted. Sure, we know all about Ellison, his life’s goals, his desires, his wishes, his struggles with alcohol; but we end up only knowing a fraction of what needs to be known for Buguul’s existence to not only make sense, but to also promote a genuine fear in viewers. Moreover, Derrickson’s decision to physically manifest certain dead characters was frankly stupid and amateur.
Sinister’s an admirable attempt at a modern horror film but it doesn’t quite get it. It’s a bit drawn out and lackluster in most parts and by the time something scary happens you’re more confused than afraid. I should have expected less by looking at Derrickson’s filmography; from the maker of The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Urban Legends: Final Cut, I should have lowered my expectations. But hey it’s October and if you like horror films, then give it a shot. If you’re about quality over quantity then just wait until it comes on tv next Halloween.
TOSS UP. It’s physically a well put together film, just lacking in many other aspects.