Sinister Movie Review
Written by Ted McCarthy
Released by Alliance Films
Directed by Scott Derrickson
C. Robert Cargill and Scott Derrickson
2012, 109 minutes, Rated R
Released on October 12th, 2012
Juliet Rylance as Tracy
Fred Dalton Thompson as Sheriff
James Ransone as Deputy
Michael Hall D'Addario as Trevor
Clare Foley as Ashley
Please bear with me, I'm gonna get a little serious for a minute. One of the myriad factors that is contributing to the not-slow-enough decline of our planet, and thereby our species, is that of overpopulation. Humans are reproducing at a faster rate than ever, and if you look at the stats, the cold, simple fact is that not too long down the road, the world just won't be able to produce enough resources to sustain us. I submit to you that no one seems to grasp this sobering concept more than the horror filmmaker. I mean, it's obvious — why else would they continue to churn out story after story about children that attract evil?
For goodness' sake, look at just a few notable examples: The Bad Seed, Who Can Kill A Child?, The Omen, The Exorcist, Children of the freakin' Corn, The Ring, Insidious, and the last two Paranormal Activity movies. Clearly they want to scare us dudes into doubling up on our Trojans and get you ladies to pop those Plan Bs like Skittles. Latest case in point: Sinister, which I must say is at least a cut above the recent scary kids movies (it's certainly miles ahead of last month's The Possession). It has a solid lead actor that's game for the material, and writer-director Scott Derrickson seems, for the most part, to realize the difference between a cheap jump scare and a genuinely disturbing moment.
Just from the plot description, you'll recognize pieces of other, better films. Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) is a writer—a profession that seems to lend itself well to horror plots…I guess I'm screwed—whose career as a true crime author has floundered several years after a massive hit. Facing some financial problems, he moves his wife (Juliet Rylance) and kids (Clare Foley and Michael Hall D'Addario) into a quaint little house in the suburbs. Thing is, unbeknownst to his wife and children, Ellison has moved them into a house where a family was murdered just months before, all hanged from a tree in the backyard. Ellison hopes to use the grisly surroundings as inspiration for a new book based on the killings, much to the disapproval of the local sheriff (Fred Dalton Thompson, who's one of those actors everyone will recognize, but not be able to name), who finds the whole thing to be "in extremely bad taste."
While moving in, Ellison finds a single box left in the attic (causing my screening audience to go, "Oooooooh nooooo…"). The box contains an old school film projector and several innocuously labeled Super 8 film reels. Naturally curious, he revs up the projector and watches as each film depicts a family socializing together, filmed from afar. Each one then cuts to close-up footage of each family being slaughtered. Repulsed but equally infatuated, Ellison continues to watch the films, and begins to see a creepy-faced figure in each one, as well as the recurrence of a strange pagan-ish looking symbol. Seeking help from a professor of the occult (an uncredited Vincent D'Onofrio), he's told that the figure is named Bagul and is an eater of the souls of children. See? The souls of children! Pagan deities such as Bagul never seem to have much taste for the souls of middle-aged, middle-class childless married couples! Just sayin'…
Luckily Hawke is a fine actor, and carries the film well enough, despite a few too many loud marital spats with the wife. Where the film excels, though, is in those aforementioned disturbing moments. While it has its jump scares (including the requisite but wholly unnecessary final one before the credits that I guarantee some studio douchebag made them shoehorn in there), it's the found film footage that has continued to stick with me long after seeing it. The dispatching of each family is starkly realistic (made more so by the grainy handheld nature of it), yet isn't gratuitous. This isn't a spoiler since the film opens with it, but the sequence where the former residents of Hawke's home are hooded and slowly raised up off the ground by their necks—legs kicking for what feels like several minutes before they go still—literally knotted my stomach. And that's not even the worst one.
The "twist" revelation towards the end probably won't be a big shock if you have seen any of the creepy psycho-kid movies I mentioned above, especially when it seems like the story's happily wrapped up, but you realize there's still twenty minutes left. But an ending can make or break a movie, and I was left satisfied with the bloody one here (despite that final jump scare that nearly undid it all).
So while it may not stack up nearly as well next to the best "writer and family with creepy kid move into place where people get chopped up" movie (that would be The Shining), it's certainly smarter and more affecting than some horror flicks that get rushed out for the Halloween season.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna go shop around for a cheap vasectomy.