Sinister * * *
Director: Scott Derrickson.
Screenplay: Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill.
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, James Ransone, Fred Dalton Thompson, Clare Foley, Michael Hall D’Addario, Nicholas King, Vincent D’Onofrio.
Admittedly, I wasn’t a fan of director Scott Derrickson’s previous films “The Exorcism Of Emily Rose” and “The Day The Earth Stood Still” so it’s promising to see that he actually can craft something of a reasonable amount of quality. This didn’t impress me as much as it did others but it’s still an admirably (sometimes excellently) crafted horror movie.
Crime writer Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) has a career that is now nosediving. He’s in desperate need of another bestseller and to achieve this, he moves into a house to research a book where the hanging of an entire family took place. His wife (Juliet Rylance) and children are oblivious that they’re living in a crime scene but once Ellison discovers a box of home movies in the attic, the dark events begin to unravel and affect them all.
Derrickson’s handling of the material here is quite impressive. He keeps the plot moving briskly and has a good grasp on mood and atmosphere. He’s also aided by a typically reliable lead performance from Ethan Hawke. From the offset, it appears that all the ingredients are in place and for the most part they are. Very few modern horrors have achieved such a commanding hold over a contemporary audience. However, once the supernatural element to the story is introduced it begins to lose it’s way and credulity becomes stretched. If it had relied more on it’s highly effective, investigatory nature, it would have made a very good serial-killer thriller: the Super-8, home video scenes alone, are truly alarming and disturbing and instil a real feeling of dread. That being said, this a horror at the end of the day and most fans of the genre will, no doubt, be satisfied. Personally, I wish it had stuck with the intriguing first half. During this time, it was a far more effective take on Joel Schumacher’s earlier 1999 film “8mm” that also dealt with a similar theme of investigating ‘snuff-movies’. Like most horrors, it has the protagonist making foolish decisions in the dark and it throws the obligatory jumpy moment at you – which doesn’t always work – but for me, the real horror came from the genuinely unsettling atmosphere.
On the whole, this was a very effective and chilling film but it was the unravelling of the mystery in the final third that didn’t quite match what had went before. A fine effort but it could have been tighter.