If you only see one horror film at the cinema this Halloween, I’d strongly recommend heading along to the digital re-release of The Shining. But if that doesn’t float your boat, or you want to see something new, make it Sinister. While Paranormal Activity has sadly become a every-Halloween-no-matter-how-bad money spinner for Lions Gate, Sinister offers up a new baddie, genuine laughs and scares, and a mad dad. And isn’t a mad dad an essential ingredient in a horror film? Here’s my full review below:
Sinister | 2012 | Scott Derrickson | USA | 15 | 110 min
Remember the Edgar Wright directed spoof trailer for the Grindhouse, Don’t? Well, this would perfectly sum up what you want to shout at Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke), the true crime writer who decides to move his young family into the scene of a particularly brutal and mysterious murder. DON’T . GO. INTO. THAT. HOUSE! The previous occupants of the new Oswalt family home came to a grisly end when all but the youngest daughter were hung by the neck from a tree in the garden. The youngest, missing without a trace, is presumed dead, with the police at a dead end. Blindly chasing his next big hit, Ellison believes that he has hit upon a gold mine when he finds new evidence in the house linking this murder to others, spanning decades. Initially pushing morals aside, Ellison slowly realises that there is something supernatural afoot and that he has put his only family in it’s path. Duh!
Found footage is becoming somewhat of a cliché in horror circles but Derrickson’s use of the format works well in this film. The whirr of the super8 projector, beloved by vintage film fanatics (myself included), takes on a wonderfully ominous tone, passively clicking through horrendously brutal footage, spluttering into life in the middle of the night, and bursting into flames, destroying film on a whim. The raw film is unpredictable, unfamiliar and difficult for Ellison to watch and we see deeply emotional responses to it, ably performed by Hawke. However, when Ellison digitises the homemade horrors, he regains control over what he is watching, able to click through frame by frame, zoom and freeze and this allows him to distance himself from his gut reaction to the crimes to which he has bore witness.
Sinister is a well crafted horror film. It has the usual scares, the ones that you know are coming and jump anyway, but it’s lifted from being the usual run-of-the-mill demon film which we’ve been lumbered with in recent years by balancing the scares with humour. This is a fine juggling act, one which I felt Derrickson failed to achieve with his previous film, Insidious, but delivers with the similarly titled, Sinister. Deputy So-and-So (James Ransone) provides the laughs, while the awful puns in the found films names will be sure to raise a few smirks with you lot that are a little more twisted. Crucially, the demon is suitably, well, sinister. He resembles a cross between Michael Jackson a melted Kiss mask, a look that works well for inhabiting grimy super8 film and eating kids’ souls. While Sinister may not enter the crypt as an all time classic, this is an entertaining film, perfect for Halloween and one which should also keep horror buffs happy.