About The Movie:
Ellison Oswald (Hawke) is a one-time best-seller whose books on real murders used to stir up sales, but now just stir people up. Looking for a career boost, he moves to a small town where a grisly murder took place when four-fifths of a family were found hanging from a tree in their yard. What Hawke doesn't tell his wife (Juliet Rylance) and kids (Michael Hall D'Addario and Clare Foley) is that he's moved them into the actual house where the murdered clan lived and died. (Any resemblance to the blocked, baffled Jack Nicholson character in The Shining is purely intentional.) Ellison soon finds a box of Super 8 films in the attic, and the most recently dated one shows the actual lynching. Ellison, desperate for success, doesn't call the cops, which briefly fills the film with life. What then helps kill Sinister dead is that Ellison does not immediately watch all of the rest of the films in the box—each of which shows another brutal murder—like any person in that circumstance would. Instead, Ellison chooses to pop in and out from his tasks and watches them piece by piece, spooling up another portrait of murder at random intervals any time the film needs a jolt, which is often.
In a genre that is dominated by sequels, remakes, prequels, spinoffs and other franchise cash-ins, non-franchise films often resort to established sub-genres, such as found-footage or “torture porn,” to stand out from the crowd. As a result, it’s up to moviegoers, via word-of-mouth, to support filmmakers who are trying, and succeeding, in delivering fresh scares and engaging/frightening stories. Does Sinister offer a smart and scary experience that’s worthy of your box office dollars and personal endorsement?
While certain elements of the plot are predictable, Sinister has managed to deliver a horror film that is not only creepier than most of its contemporaries, it excels with relatable characters, and a smart premise – a premise that pays off in both the larger story mythology as well as moment to moment scares. Moviegoers hoping for a bloody splatter flick might be underwhelmed considering the movie relies heavily on creepy night sequences, grainy video footage, and the unfolding mystery around Mr. Boogie. That said, for viewers who have grown tired of the countless stock horror offerings in the genre, Sinister should provide an especially engaging and refreshingly spooky movie experience.
The scares themselves, as well as the larger mystery, are primarily revealed through a combination of the escalating disturbances in the Oswalt house and the super 8 tapes (which each depict a different grisly murder). Many filmgoers have begun to tire of the found-footage gimmick, as Hollywood continues to pump out one ridiculous application of the format after another, but the Sinister “found footage” rarely disappoints. Each film is compelling and unsettling – with plenty of variation and uniquely horrific imagery to keep viewers squirming in their seats. Similarly, unlike many horror contemporaries, each violent moment in Sinister serves a larger story purpose (not just violence for the sake of violence) – resulting some satisfying call backs at the conclusion of the film.
Not every element of Sinister is up to par and while the larger story and experience deliver, a number of individual moments borrow heavily from prior horror films and could be predictable to anyone who is paying close enough attention (or anyone has seen the film’s notable inspirations). In addition, Sinister joins the growing list of films that rely on creepy kids to do their frightening dirty work. The children admittedly deliver plenty of spooky on-screen drama but “spooky kid” moments don’t quite live up to the promise established in the larger premise.
Nevertheless, like the 2007 indie horror film Paranormal Activity (which originally gained traction through festival screenings and word of mouth), Sinister‘s rich premise and creepy monster, Mr. Boogie, could easily spawn a string of high-profit franchise sequels. Only time will tell but, until then, this film succeeds in delivering an exceptionally engaging, and frightening, movie experience with quality characters, a smart story, and plenty of scares.