Sinister DVD Review
Written by Joel Harley
DVD released by Momentum Pictures
Directed by Scott Derrickson
Written by Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill
2012, Region 2 (PAL), 110 minutes, Rated 18
DVD released on 11 February 2013
Ethan Hawke as Ellison Oswalt
Juliet Rylance as Tracy
Fred Dalton Thompson as Sheriff
James Ransone as Deputy
Michael Hall D'Addario as Trevor
Clare Foley as Ashley
Researching his latest book, crime writer Ellison Oswalt moves into an old murder house and finds a box set of movies in the attic. Unfortunately for him, it's a box set of found footage movies. Well, it's footage that he finds. Ergo, found footage. It's always found footage. Why couldn't it have been a Stuart Gordon box set instead, or Tarantino XX?
I first encountered Sinister in the run-up to its cinematic release last year, when I was unfortunate enough to get caught up in the hype and let myself believe that it was going to be one of 2012's best horror movies. Will I ever learn? Probably not, no. It instead wound up being one of the most disappointing movies of the year and certainly one of the more overrated. I have seen Sinister three times now, and I dislike it more with each viewing. The problem with gimmicky movies such as this and Insidious is that they rarely stand up to repeat viewing. Despite some genuinely creepy segments and a sterling performance from respectable actor Ethan Hawke, Sinister suffers more than most from the problem.
But before the whining continues, here are some things I did enjoy about Sinister: Ethan Hawke's choice in knitwear is lovely. Hawke himself delivers a very sympathetic performance as Oswalt (which is a great name for a crime writer). The found footage sections are genuinely unsettling and well-done, particularly in the music and overall atmosphere which accompanies them. There's a nice sense of forboding to the first half of the film. There's a great bit in which Oswalt falls out of his attic (people falling over or being hit on the head with things is one of my greatest weaknesses. I cried for two whole minutes laughing at a man being knocked on the head with a door in Looper). Sinister is a great title for a horror movie. Um, I'm struggling here already.
If you like jump scares, loud noises without warning and that one bit in Insidious in which Darth Maul just appears behind Patrick Wilson, you should enjoy Sinister. As a series of crashes, bumps in the night and unpleasant death scenes, it's ace. But beyond that, it's kind of boring. There's no lingering sense of horror, no scares other than the immediate, one-and-done kind, and the villain is stupid. Mister Boogie is not a good name for a villain. When you have people laughing in the cinema at the mention of his name – and not even nervously, or ironically – then you've failed. The ending is just as stupid, and serves only to undermine the rest of the film even more.
Sinister isn't even particularly bad, which somehow makes me resent the film even more. With its fine cast, reasonably high budget (for a horror film), competent director and good ideas, it should have been so much better. Instead, it settles for the easy option, delivering cheap shocks at the cost of substance and character. Any sympathy garnered for Oswalt and his plight is completely diminished by the time he burns a big box of police evidence on his lawn. Might want to leave that bit out of the next big true crime biopic, Ellison.
And because, as a drunk guy told me on the bus last week, “shit makes money,” Sinister 2 is already in the works. He was talking about Harry Potter, but the point still stands.
Video and Audio:
It looks and sounds great. The bulk of the movie looks slick and moody, while the found footage segments are suitably atmospheric and horrible. It is indeed all very sinister.
Commentaries, and creepy and fascinating features about true crime writers and murder houses, which shows the film to be more well-written and researched than you might give it credit for. The Fear Experiment sounds intriguing, but is merely a gang of boffins measuring the audience's reaction to a screening of Sinister. Obviously this is an audience of wimps, since the guys and girls look terrified. Imagine if they'd been watching something that was actually scary.