A crime novelist moves his family to a home where the previous family had been murdered. Like horror film has taught us before, this is never a good idea. Thus begins the terror of Sinister, a new horror film from writer-director Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism Of Emily Rose) and starring Ethan Hawke as the writer at the very bowel of human destruction and depravity. Is Sinister just another gory Hollywood cash grab or is it something really special…and scary? My review after the jump.
Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke), is not having the greatest writing career. After a string of failures he attempts to revive his career by writing a novel chronicling the strange murder of a family. The murder remains unsolved and the young daughter in the family is missing – her body was never found with the rest of the deceased family members. The crime perplexes and fascinates Oswalt to the extent that he’s moved his entire family to the home where the horrific crime took place. Are Oswalt’s family aware of the horrific things that happened in this home? Not at all. His wife, Tracy (Juliet Rylance) and two children miss their old life, yet are aware his of struggling writing career. Oswalt’s investigation into the murder begins by studying the family members and the house itself, which leads to a box in the attic… A box filled with old super 8 film reels. Oswalt, of course has no choice but to see what’s on each of them and what he sees proves to be disturbing, horrific and beyond comprehension.
And that’s all I am willing to reveal regarding the film’s plot. Also don’t watch a trailer. Trust me.
Sinister, above all else is a horror film. It defies clichés as well as admires them. But does it do anything different from your recent average horror film release? Is it even remotely frightening? Yes and yes again. Sinister is absolutely terrifying. It’s that horror film you’ve been patiently waiting for. Not once does it succumb to being a menagerie of gore and nudity. Sinister is interested in exploring one’s fascination with murder and human cruelty. So what raises Sinister above other films of its ilk and what exactly does it do differently?
Co-writer and director, Scott Derrickson includes jump scares yet doesn’t rely on them. In fact, the film’s truly scary moments take their time. There’s a real affection for patience and silence in this film, that is so unabashedly ignored by horror films of this generation. Why? The images shown on screen and those witnessed by Hawke’s character are extremely disturbing acts of cruelty. We become witnesses to some of the most savage acts ever imposed on celluloid, yet hardly an ounce of blood is shown. Does it make it any less cruel? No, but it shows a true restraint and maturity from the film-makers. You’re not encouraged to cheer or marvel at the horror unravelling before your eyes; it’s meant to be as ugly and insidious as Hawke’s character finds it. You know a horror film is doing something right when the horror is in the protagonist’s reaction, rather than gory excess.
Performances from Hawke and Rylance are terrific. We believe these people and their dilemma, and we truly fear for them. These are characters we actually care about, not just disposables. This can also be attributed to Derrickson and co-writer, C Robert Cargill’s screenplay. They rely on story and character to propel the film’s horror. The violence and scares are minimal, yet very effective. Spectacle takes a backseat to a character study and a genuine interest in destructive human behaviour. There’s also a large reliance on technology, yet it never interferes or detracts from the tension or horror. The technology in place is purely for plot progression, not for gimmicks.
There’s something scary in the use of super 8 film. You hear the sound of film buzzing through a projector, whilst seeing some of the most horrific images you’re likely to ever witness. The horror is in the brutality that encompasses each frame and the acknowledgement of timeless storytelling tools and the revolting nature of violence. Both may be captured on new mediums yet the acts still remain.
Bask in this hard-working horror film’s glory. It knows what you’re afraid of.
By Chris Elena
Director: Scott Derickson
Writer(s): Scott Derickson, C Robert Cargill
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, Fred Dalton Thompson, Vincent D’Onofrio
Runtime: 110 minutes
Release Date(s): Australia: May 30, 2013; USA: October 12, 2012