Sinister (2012)

Horror films continue to be a great source of revenue for the movie business. They can be made for little money and tend to rake in a profit regardless if they’re even any good. Slasher, gorno and found footage films have all enjoyed their time at the box office until the particular sub-genre is beaten to death, usually by the film’s own sequels (today Saw, tomorrow Paranormal Activity).

In 2012 the atmospheric horror has had a good run. Recent films such as The Pact and The Possession have adapted the suspense and mystery normally utilised in found footage films. Mysteries are unravelled and the audience is invited to be scared rather than revolted by what’s on screen.

Sinister is the latest film intended to inflict genuine fear onto the audience as opposed to making them feel sick through graphic imagery.

Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) is a true crime novelist who has recently moved into a new home with his family as he works on his latest book. While exploring the house he comes across a box of old super 8 home videos. Curiosity gets the better of him and he decides to watch them, however rather than feature the cherished memories of a family album, they document a series of horrific murders.

Realising that there is a mystery to be solved, Ellison devotes his time to the footage, much to the frustration of his wife Tracey ( Juliet Rylance) and the strain it puts on his two children.

The more Ellison uncovers of the murders, the deeper we delve into his tormented character. A once successful writer, he finds himself chasing his next big break despite the pressure it puts on his family and himself. He knocks back whiskey and watches old videos of himself on talk shows, though he believes he’s pursuing his work for the right reasons. Rylance is excellent and underused as the loyal wife who is close to breaking point with her husband’s obsession.

Despite these being particular strengths of the film, it is a supernatural horror and the token scares are just around the corner. Director Scott Derrickson does brilliant to create an atmosphere that makes for uncomfortable viewing. The “found footage” scenes in particular, are haunting and make the viewer cringe in their seat at the murders despite the lack of gore.

Unfortunately the suspense can’t last forever and Derrickson is forced to present a couple of easy scares. Accompanied by Christopher Young’s sharp score, we’re treated to a few shots that although make us jump, cheapen the film’s mood a little. The more supernatural the film gets, the less scary it becomes.

Ellison may be a cliché, but Hawke gives him credibility and depth. When discussing the paranormal with the local deputy, (James Rasnsome) Ellison starts to crack up as his skepticism slowly begins to fade as he realises that he is dealing with a malevolent entity not of this world. An entity with a back story that is too fleshed out, destroying any mystery in one plot explaining scene.

Enjoyable enough, Sinister’s main flaw is that there feels to be no payoff to the suspense that is created. A fairly predictable ending (with an awful last shot) left me very unsatisfied. Somewhere within the 110 minutes is a great film about one writer’s obsession with an unsolved murder, it’s a shame that it is bogged down by predictable horror cliches and cheap scares. Sure it’ll make you jump once or twice, but you’ll be angry for doing so.

Echoing The Shining at times, Sinister is worth a watch despite it’s obvious and annoying flaws. It may leave you feeling a little uneasy but it won’t have you questioning any bumps in the night. One for DVD.

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Thomas Simpson

Senior Editor at Moviescramble. Writer, filmmaker, friendly neighbourhood storyteller. The best film ever made is Jaws, sorry if you thought differently.
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