There are a lot of different tastes in horror. Unfortunately this leads to the over saturation of the the genre with nary an original concept around. It also has to evolve, as the thing that scared somebody once is sure not to do it again. Enter Sinister. This film was made with one intention. To scare you.
The story is basic. Ethan Hawke is a true crime novelist that loses himself in his work. His books have gained him both positive and negative notoriety due to the effects they have had on their respective communities. He picks up his family and moves them to the location of the crime he intends to use for his next novel, a simultaneous quadruple hanging with a missing child. Shortly after moving into the house, he finds a box containing super 8 film reels and a super 8 projector. As he begins watching he starts to unravel a mystery that would be better left unsolved.
Sinister reminded me of two different classifications of horror, and both are sub-genre definitions that I really wish we had more of. There are distinct ties to The Ring, including the way in which it picks at the audience and attempts to creep them out by saying they are at risk for watching the film. Sinister uses the same dark atmosphere that j-horror had attempted to use to boost their often simplistic ghost stories into grandiose presentations of terror. It also resembles the horror of yesteryear, before effects were needed to carry the story and horror was treated in the same regard as love stories. Not everyone loved them, but they were made with skill and care towards the topic.
I have written my fare share of DVD reviews and Movie of the Day columns on the horror topic, and the biggest complaint I normally have is that most directors that want to truly be scary forget the importance of pacing. Scott Derrickson completely gets it. His shots are long, the story slow and seed patiently grows to root you in fear, with characters that you care about. This alone separates Sinister from most the other “scary movies” out there.
There was a lot of attention to detail, and things that stood out to me as the movie carried on. The setting from opening scene lingers in many shots, never letting you forget how invested Hawke is in his work. The sound, which constantly uses the tick of projector spools as a background and laying a dark, moody white noise over it. The cool blue light in the hallway that maintained a feeling of complete isolation while never making it too dark to see where the action was occurring.
It also needs to be said that a creepier format could not have been used for the home movies. I worked with Super 8 during my time at film school, and no matter what you do with it, it always looks creepy. My family has home movies of my uncle riding a unicycle from the early 70s that even though he looks like a complete fool, it always appears to be just moments away from him falling to his death on some nearby object and the film running out as the blood starts to flow. Super 8 makes for the perfect medium in which to display some acts that are meant to torment Hawke, let alone the addition of the home projector sound which adds easy access to a basis of a dreadful score.
As with any film, it’s not perfect. One of the dialogue scenes between Hawke and Juliet Rylance pushes the time boundaries to the limit, and we never get to know and invest heavily in more than Hawke and Rylance, though the family as a unit is a focus. This is a nitpick though, because we do care how they end up, and the dialogue scene does set it apart from almost anything else out there.
2012 has given us a variety of great horror. This is the trifecto for me. V/H/S provided some great short stories in arguably one of the best horror anthologies, meta commentary about horror reached a new peak with the much more light Cabin in the Woods and Sinister expands on the horror that V/H/S started.
When the credits role, the topics that the story is about is disturbing, but done in a very tasteful way. If you want Human Centipede or Saw, you can look elsewhere. If you want to see a film made by a director who set out to scare people, and did so outside the big studio system (a studio is releasing, but he was given final cut and the ending separates it from most of the idiotic decisions that execs force into horror because they think we that’s what we want) I’m giving this the highest mark I can honestly think to give a horror film, because it does what it sets out to do, and it does it better than almost any other film in the last decade.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars