When I first saw this film, I hated it. Couldn’t stand it. Pissed me off, even. Then I realized; I’d been scared through the whole thing. It’s a feeling I hadn’t experienced in the movies in quite some time. It was such a strange feeling I couldn’t recognize it. Okay, there’s a little bit of pissed off still left in me, but that’s for a good reason; Sinister is non-stop horror that whips together the best of ghost stories, urban legends, mythology and lowdown slasher tropes. It also gives no quarter to the characters in the story, and as such gives relief to the audience. Forget jokes that break up the tension, because Sinister is here to do one thing and one thing only: scare the [Radio Edit] out of you.
Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke, doing a masterful job) is a true-crime novelist that believes his calling is A Great Important Thing that can have nothing else get in the way. So obviously, he’s broke. Hey looky; a house where some wicked horrible murders occurred is on the market. For cheap! A place to live and research a new book; what could go wrong? Um, have you seen the poster for this movie, dude?
File this film under the “it’s still here/pissed/deadly” genre of ghost stories, but if you’re already figuring the plot out in your mind, don’t bother. Does Sinister flip all the usual switches? Yes. There’s strange happenings, a horrible history, an extended past that Ellison uncovers, and kids acting weird. Ellison doesn’t go to the po-po when stuff starts happening, and BTW his family isn’t in on the real story of the house. You know it, you love it. 20 minutes in and I’m placing my bets as to what’s gonna go down. But then Sinister does something that so many of the current crop of ghostly movies forgot to do; it takes what you’re expecting it actually scares the crap out of you.
By using found footage in the most old-school way — the character watching the videos, editing them, etc. — the film not only shows us the scariness of past murders, but the reaction of Ellison as he’s watching the horror unfold. And as he learns more, he can’t shake the presence that is getting it’s hooks on him and his family. Did I mention there’s no quarter given in this film? Don’t hold out any hope for this family y’all.
Yes, instead of staying at the house, this family should be pulling an Eddie Murphy “too bad we can’t stay, baby” and blow the scene. But in Sinister it’s not that easy. Sure, Ellison is an idiot for not sharing info about the house with his family and the police. But the sense of impending doom and it’s effects on him are truly chilling. A great deal of the success of this film goes to director/writer Scott Derrickson, of the gloriously spooky The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Derrickson knows when to hold his cards, and when to toss it all in your face. Plus, he’s created a great boogie man in Mr. Boogie. Not the scariest of names, but think Pazuzu’s “Captain Howdy”. Here “Mr. Boogie” is code name for Bughuul, an ancient god that messes with kids and their families. Uh-oh. And I say that for two reasons; for the Oswalts in this film, and for any others in sequels that are primed to come. (But hopefully won’t, because this chiller is delicious on it’s own.)
Welcome back, scary. I’ve missed you.