Sinister * * *

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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.

Mark Walker

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17 Responses to “Sinister * * *”

  1. I agree it’s pretty good horror movie though it could have been better. I saw it around Halloween and comparing to all the shitty horror films that were released lately it really stood out.

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    • For two thirds of the film it was brilliant Sati. I just wasn’t keen on the unravelling of it all. Still, like you say, it’s better than a lot of other horror crap we’ve been getting of late.

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  2. Nice job dude. Im trying to convince my better half to watch this with me, but I cant see it happening.

    I loved 8mm btw, really takes a lot of flak but I enjoyed it, mainly for crazy Joaquin and of course Tony Soprano himself James Gandolfini. πŸ™‚

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    • There were bits to 8mm that I loved (mainly the ones you mention- Phoenix and Gandolfini) but I didn’t like the snuff movie lingering. It really fucked with my head. I don’t like that shit, yet that’s also the strongest part about this film. Sounds like a contradiction, I know!
      I also didn’t find the vigilante side to 8mm very convincing. It had it’s moments though.

      I’d imagine you’ll probably enjoy Sinister more than I did. There’s good things to recommend it but it lost my interest a bit at the end.

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  3. I was also surprised by how much I enjoyed this one (mostly because I’m not typically a big horror fan), but I do agree with you that it probably would have been more effective if it stayed grounded in reality. The demented home videos were by far the most “unsettling”, as you say. I still thought it was by far the most effective horror movie I’ve seen in years

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    • I agree Andy. Not many recent horrors have been as good as this but it was certainly a film that kind of split off in a direction from where it began. It didn’t fully satisfy me when it did but the atmosphere and mood were spot on. Thanks man.

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  4. Filmfella Darren Says:

    Hey Mark,

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  5. Filmfella Darren Says:

    Hey Mark, I watched Sinister last weekend, and I have to say, from that really eerie opening hanging sequence, it had me hooked. Yes, it was a surprise when it went in a supernatural direction, since it seemed a stretch to believe that an otherworldly entity could have contrived such a plot – but the twist of the plot did interesting thinks to Ethan Hawke’s character’s story. Plus the method in which the director drip-fed the imagery of that entity really worked for me – I got a chill every-time that face popped up. And just what said entity did to incorporate children into the evil plan, backed up the name Sinister as it was pretty twisted. I thought it would fall apart after the reveal, but I was surprised to find that it remained frightening. I even thought the reversal of Ringu finale was creepy. I think what held the film together was the narrative arc of Ethan Hawke’s writer character. He was completely consumed by his obsession to find another great story after his earlier success. He was even willing to risk the safety of his family in the pursuit of his story. I think the title Sinister actually refers to his actions. Had he been writing about murders committed by a serial killer, there wouldn’t have been a live threat to himself and his family. He was desperate to find a great story, but the more paranormal activity he uncovers, the further he gets from a great story since, had he had the chance to write it, his story would have been dismissed as nonsense and he might have killed his career since he was a true crime writer. So he has been endangering his family for nothing. He realizes just how stupid he has been towards the end I think. As someone who wants to be a writer, this left an impression on me. I guess those of us who have this ambition assume that if we make a name for ourselves with a hit, things will all fall into place, but as this film reveals, it is a constant battle to stay relevant. The writing profession consumes this man. It’s writing that is the real threat in this film. For me, this makes it one of the most interesting films about writing I have ever seen. Plus it’s a pretty scary horror film too. Thanks for always reading my reviews. You have left more comments on The Filmfellas website than anyone else, so it’s nice to open my account on your website.

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  6. Thanks for such an in-depth comment there Darren. I appreciate you taking the time to stop by. I like the point you make about the title actually being the actions of Hawke’s character. That’s an interesting perspective and one that I’d agree with, now that you’ve brought it to my attention.
    I don’t think you’re alone on enjoying the reveal and the finale and again you give good examples of why it worked for you. I didn’t hate it but I was so caught up in the investigation and the reality side of things that the supernatural seemed out of place when it arrived. Still, I expected it as it’s a horror after all but I just wanted it to stick it’s winning formula. Like I mention in my review, I think this would have made a fantastic serial-killer thriller.

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  7. Not as terrifying as I would have liked it to be, but still a pretty freaky movie that builds and builds up to a pretty intense ending. Good review Mark.

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    • Thanks Dan! I really liked this for the most part but it was the ending that didn’t do it for me. As horror standards go, it was good but after such a strong first half i was left a little disappointed.

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  8. I just watched this but haven’t written a review yet. I thought it was decent, but nto the kind of horror movie I like best. Loved the Super 8, but could have been without the jump-scares that felt a bit cheap. All in all I think real horror movie fans will be satisfied.

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    • Thanks Jessica. I totally agree with you. The super 8 was the scariest thing about it and the jump moments were a bit rubbish. They really (poorly) stood out as cheap shock tactics. Still, it was a fairly good movie. I just wasn’t keen on the unravelling of it all.

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