Review: Sinister / Cert: 15 / Director: Scott Derrickson / Screenplay: Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill / Starring: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, James Ransone / Release Date: February 11th
First off, don't panic. This is a movie about found footage, but thankfully not another found footage horror movie, if you get our drift. In the process of researching his latest book, true crime writer Ellison Oswalt (Hawke) moves his family into an old murder house in order to see how they react to the creepy atmos. Up in the attic, he finds a cache of snuff flicks on Super 8 (never mind The Evil Dead, these are real video nasties) and unwittingly unleashes a dark and terrible force. Still, could have been worse. Could've been a Paranormal Activity box set.
Sinister does some things very well, but this reviewer found himself utterly baffled by the popularity of the second-most over-hyped horror film of 2012 after Cabin in the Woods. It follows a similar template to 2010's Insidious (down to the evocative one-word title) but feels less impressive. There's an attempt to replicate that film's villain, but nothing is as shocking or well done as the Red-Faced Demon's reveal. Mr. Boogie feels, by comparison, like a lazy attempt to create an iconic villain without putting in any of the groundwork.
There are places, however, where Sinister does succeed in its aspirations. The snuff movie segments are extremely well done – by far the most chilling moments of the film, complete with an unsettling soundtrack and some truly grisly murder sequences. Ethan Hawke makes a touchingly down-to-earth foil for Mr. Boogie, falling out of attics, drinking heavily and wearing a dodgy cardie. His comedy cop sidekick is fun too, although the pair's meddling in police evidence makes them hard to like. The film itself is slick, well-paced and occasionally quite tense, with a great atmosphere – but its flaws are all too evident on the small screen. It doesn't stand up well to repeat viewing, since all it really has to hold viewer's interest is some jump scares and a twist at the end that is horribly predictable, cynically leaving the door open for any number of sequels. Scott Derrickson's confident direction and Ethan Hawke with his box of snuff films really are the only thing to commend Sinister for. Sinister is good, but it could have been so much better.
The word 'sinister' is a promise, or a threat, rather than something concrete or real. “Threatening or portending evil,” goes the dictionary definition. Sinister does that bit very well. But unfortunately it never really seems to go anywhere.