. In many ways, it seems almost arrogant for a horror film to title itself after an attribute it aspires to. I get that it’s trying to evoke something, but if it is Sinister
then surely the film itself should demonstrate that
, not some haphazard and heavy-handed marketing label
slapped on the front like a “May Contain Nuts” sticker
So is it, in fact, Sinister? Well…no.
That might be a touch cruel, as it wasn’t a complete car crash of a horror film (it wasn’t, for example, part of the Paranormal Activity franchise). And, in fact, there were a lot of things that it did rather well. But the fundamental feeling I was left with was one of disappointment.
Part of that might have been the circumstances in which I saw it. It’s truly great, in these austere times, to see a cinema packed out. But really, when Satre said that hell is other people, he was onto something. A cinema packed with the sort of people who find everything frightening simply because it’s in a horror film, is not conducive to a good film experience. They were screaming at the name of the studio, for God’s sake!
But as for the film itself; it follows true-crime writer Ellison Osborne (Ethan Hawke), who moves to a small town with wife Tracy (Juliet Rylance) and children Trevor and Ashley, in order to write his new book. They’ve moved into a house where the previous resident family was found hung from a tree, and the youngest daughter vanished — something which he hasn’t told Juliet. He then finds some Super 8 films depicting that same murder, as well as a series of others back over a period of decades. His attempts to solve the mystery then lead to various spooky and supernatural goings on.
It’s a pretty innovative approach to reinvigorating the whole “found footage” genre of horror, which has grown someone stale and overworked lately. And, actually, the murder films are genuinely creepy and unsettling — the one labelled “Lawn Work” in particular. And Ellison, as a character, feels believable the whole way through, with the jittery nervousness familiar to me and probably to all writers.
In that way, it feels almost like Stephen King could have written it.
But where it lets the side down is in some of the resolution. It plays off the is it/isn’t it tension between supernatural and conventional crime for most of the film, with the audience never quite sure until about the final third, whether there is something paranormal going on or whether Ellison is simply cracking up. But once it is clear and answers are surfacing, they seem…disappointing.
It takes the easy way out. And in many cases it kills the horror — for example, that the bad guy is a death metal singer with anger problems (the baddie IS NOT a death metal singer with anger problems, but if you watch it you’ll see what I mean). Horror is a difficult line to tread, and Sinister was so nearly there. But sadly it fell short of its name, like previous film Insideous — which is actually by the same producers. And like Insideous, it all fell apart when the big bad was revealed as something laughable rather than creepy.
You know what, I’m going to make my own generic horror film. Utter by the numbers stuff, with every cliche of the genre you can think of. And I’ll call it…Scary Movie.
…What? Wait…what do you mean that already a thing?!