Oh, horror movies. Sometimes you are ridiculously stupid and completely not scary, and you make me wonder why I have decided to even spend time and money on you. Then sometimes you make amazing films that make me wonder if I’ll ever be able to sleep again and why the horror industry as a whole isn’t doing better. And then you make perfectly okay films which I neither love nor hate, which gives me a few scares but nothing major, and overall while I enjoyed it, I probably won’t be rewatching it. This week’s film falls squarely into that third category.
Let’s take a look at Sinister.
The plot concerns Ellison, a famous crime writer who moves his family to the home where a gruesome quadruple-homicide and one disappearance took place, in order to write another hit to make money. Ellison finds a box of old Super 8 home movies in the attic, with some rather unassuming names like “Sleepy Time” and “Pool Party.” After watching them, he realizes that they are actually gruesome snuff films, with the most recent one, “Family Hanging Out,” depicting the gruesome hanging of four of the family members by the tree in the backyard. But soon Ellison realizes that there’s more to the films then they appear as he spots a mysterious painted figure in the background of each film, an ancient god named Bughuul, who has sinister plans for Ellison and his family.
As far as the story goes, I’m going to avoid spoilers as much as humanely possible but it’s gonna be tough. If you watched the trailer, you know Bughuul moves through images, so the rest of the plot shouldn’t be too hard to figure out. They even tell you who the possessed kid is RIGHT ON THE DAMN COVER OF THE DVD. A lot of you have or will be able to see how this is going to play out. Also the film is filled with jump scares and “disturbing” children that actually underminds the real creepiness of the film itself – it does get rather tiresome after a while.
Despite this, however, the film manages to hold onto its suspense and be a genuinely intriguing film. The concept is pretty original, the snuff films are especially gorey, and it holds up strong until the third act, where everything becomes super obvious and you’re just waiting for the inevitable death that’s around the corner. It’s the kind of super obvious that makes you want to make you bang your head against a wall because of the obvious, stupid mistakes. You have been warned. Also there are some plot holes about why the god needs so many ghost kids when he’s supposed to consume one then go for others, but it’s a minor point at best so do your best to ignore it. The screen writer sure did.
The acting and the characters in the film are sort of at odds. On the one hand, the acting is very strong. Ethan Hawke gives a strong performance as Ellison, a man desperate to write a super successful new book, as does Juliet Rylance, as the supportive but also strong willed wife Tracy. Hell, even the child actors are pretty good in their roles, never being overly cute or annoying. The problem is that the characters within the film are not very likable and this makes it hard to get invested in their pain and fear, so their fate didn’t particularly bother or sadden me. Ellison is an idiot and obsessed with money, the wife does little to make the situation better, and the kids are really only used as fright factors rather than being characters in their own right. Sometimes you have to wonder who wrote this and why they don’t understand how human beings work.
The cinematography is pretty strong. The movie uses dark lighting and shadowing in a very subtle, almost unnoticeable way which makes the film seem more depressed and creepy. There are a lot of night scenes which is pretty typical. The use of paint and small noises really help to make the house seem small and vulnerable (if you watch the film, you’ll see what I mean) not to mention the attic is creepy as all Hell. In fact, even more than the snuff films themselves, its the house that creates the oppressive and haunting atmosphere. Certainly does a better job than the shots of “OOH LOOK CREEPY ROTTING GHOST KIDS!!!”
In the end, Sinister is an above average horror film, but it’s not so far up the curve that it’s exceptional. That’s not to say that it doesn’t do a lot of things right, it just also does a lot wrong that ruins the good. Personally, it was a fun watch, pretty safe, and did its job pretty decently. I’d recommend giving it a watch on a rainy, cloudy night. In your attic. You know, to set the mood.
– Suspenseful and genuinely intriguing.
– Strong acting.
– Strong plot, up until the third act.
– Genuinely unlikeable protagonist, making it hard to become emotionally invested.
– The third act.
– The jump scares do lose potency after a time.
Next week, I will finally do some sci-fi!…kind of!