All true-crime writer, Ellison Oswalt wants is another hit. 10 years after writing Kentucky Blood, a book that earned him money, fame and the enmity of law enforcement all over the country, two of the three are drying up (hint: the local sheriff lets him know straight out that the latter is alive and well). For this reason, he moves his family across the country to write a new true-crime novel, this one centering on the unsolved murders of a family and the disappearance of their youngest daughter. What he doesn’t tell his wife Tracy (Juliette Rylance), or two children, Trevor (Michael Hall D’Addario) and Ashley (Clair Foley), is that they are not just moving near the crime scene, they are moving into the crime scene.
Once in the home, Oswalt (played by the ever-disheveled Ethan Hawk) discovers “home movies” of not only the murder of the family he came to investigate, but several other families as well. What begins as the hunt for a disturbing cult or individual quickly takes on even darker possibilities, as he notices a mysterious, seemingly in-human entity in the background of each Super-8 roll.
Here’s what Sinister has going for it: It’s scary. For real. Some of the scares are a little cheap – lots of loud noises and jump shots – and for the first thirty minutes or so of the film, I was on the fence about whether it would be able to rise above those tactics and become a movie I didn’t feel like I’d already seen, something like a combination of Silence of the Lambs and every ghost story ever. Just in time, writer/director Scott Derrickson proves his metal with a strangely beautiful, deeply scary, shiver-inducing scene in which Oswalt is stalked through his house by a series of (presumably) dead children, and all is well. (I mean…all is well in that it is at this point that the movie establishes itself – things are not so “well” for Oswalt). Many of the distractions I felt during the first part of the movie, particularly my struggle to connect with Oswalt or to see a connection between him and his family, sorted themselves out, or at the very least were more than compensated for by the both haunting and jarring scary moments of the film.
All horror movies have to find a way to explain the strange behavior of their protagonists. The set-up of Oswalt as a man who has alienated law-enforcement and who is desperate to break a case that will bring him renewed fame and fortune, helps explain why he doesn’t call the police as soon as he finds the tapes, but it doesn’t make him particularly likable. It’s a little unbelievable that his wife and kids don’t find out they’ve moved into a “murder house” pretty much on arrival, but there are some scenes in which it is established that the wife “doesn’t want to know” about her husband’s books and the kids aren’t allowed to, so it hangs together enough that as an audience we can say, “alright, I guess I’ll go along with it.”
It took me a long time to realize that as an audience member, I might not be meant to connect with Oswalt. Perhaps he’s a man who came into this home already broken and spiraling – unlikable, but semi-sympathetic. Still, I would argue it is this disconnect that keeps Sinister from rising above “very good” and hitting “great.”
Sinister goes to some very, very dark places folks. You already know from the previews that there are murdered children involved, so I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. However, it is undeniably a very good horror movie. When I woke up in the middle of the night to answer the phone (about that amazing Cardinals win over the Nationals, for all you sports fans), I made the mistake of letting a couple of images from it enter my consciousness and it was a good 30 minutes before I could get back to sleep. In my twisted brain, that’s a good thing.
Final verdict? If you can handle the premise, Sinister does not disappoint on scares.
PS: I went to see Sinister at the earliest time offered, 11:20 AM. Just like when I saw The Possession, I was the only one in the theater. Not cool, man. For some reason, I got this horrible idea stuck in my head: what if the theater staff decided to prank me? You know, put on a Halloween mask and slowly climb the stairs or something. Such was my paranoia that when an employee did come in, for the usual “is anyone trying to tape this movie illegally” check, I very nearly screamed. If he had been any closer, I might have punched him and run. I highly recommend bringing a friend. And, remember how surround-sound works. There’s not REALLY a door opening right next to you. It just sounds that way.
For another review of Sinister, check out Hilton Collin’s piece over at Word of the Nerd.
Stuff we geek out about…
- A Little Something for the Fellas (2)
- A Little Something for the Ladies (9)
- Avengers Boot Camp (9)
- Before the Movie – Trailers (13)
- Editorials and Reviews (135)
- Interviews (19)
- Miscellaneous Geekery (48)
- Nostalgia (17)
- Sandman Re-Read (11)
- Three Favorite Things (4)
What we JUST said…
- All the Posts I Meant to Write this Month, Abridged
- Hemlock Grove-A New Guilty Pleasure
- Deborah Harkness and A Discovery of Witches
- Syfy’s Defiance- Hope They Didn’t Blow the Budget on a Song
- Cover Reveal for the New Liz Long Novel Witch Hearts
- From Gen-X, To Chris Hardwick With Love
- Before the Movie: G.I. Joe Retaliation