Friday, October 12, 2012

Sinister Sights

It's not often that mainstream American horror actually freaks me out. I enjoy it (well, some of it) but it's mostly junk food and I enjoy it on that level. I can't say that Sinister disturbed me in the way that recent foreign fare like I Saw The Devil has but it unsettled me more than I would've expected so I rate that as a notable accomplishment.

It's not a perfect film but its flaws fade in importance next to the ruthless approach taken by director Scott Derrickson and writer C. Robert Cargill. These guys were clearly out to make a serious horror movie and they succeeded admirably.

The plot is straight out of Horror 101. Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke), a true crime author, has seen his career take a prolonged dip after his one big success ten years prior. Chasing another win, he moves his wife and two young kids into a house in which the previous family came to a grisly end. Ellison has neglected to tell his family that the specific house they've moved into was the scene of the very crime he's writing about but if this book pans out the way Ellison hopes, all will be forgiven. Despite these good intentions, it shouldn't surprise anyone when I say moving into the house proves to be a lousy idea.

Ellison discovers a box in the attic containing a Super 8 movie projector along with several reels of film. Ellison starts screening these films in the privacy of his office and he sees not just glimspes of family gatherings but also the horrific murders of these families. Ellison at first starts to call the police about this discovery but then opts to keep it to himself, believing that this will be his true ticket to fame.

The more Ellison delves into the mystery of these films and the history behind these various murders, the worse things get. Soon, Ellison is experiencing weird hallucinations and whatever is going on is seeping into his kid's minds as well with both his son and daughter showing signs of knowing about past events in the house.

Like I said, the story isn't much and anyone with even a passing familiarity with the horror genre won't be surprised by the basic path that Sinister takes. What elevates it is the abundance of disturbing imagery, an almost single-mindedly grim approach that's rare in US horror, and Christopher Young's striking score. As much as certain elements in Sinister are overly familiar (the movie freely cribs from various sources - the most obvious being The Shining and Manhunter) and as much as characterization is a mixed bag, my inner skeptic was continually forced to sit down and shut up by how well Derrickson mounts his shocks.

Some of the big scares are spoiled by the trailers but I'm not complaining. In fact, knowing a few moments were coming in advance probably saved me from being wheeled out of the theater on a gurney. Sinister isn't a film that gets everything right but it delivers dread with a sure hand.

If you're looking for something scary to see in the theaters this October (and if you're reading this blog, you're probably always looking for something scary to see in theaters) I don't see how you could do much better than Sinister.


Mummbles said...

I though the trailer stood out even though it looked very formula. I have heard good things about the movie even with its flaws. I might have to go to see this but I am sort of scared now lol. Nice review.

Are you watching a lot of horror movies this October?

Jeff Allard said...

Of course! Although it seems like there's never enough time in October to watch all the movies I'd like to!

Cheap Beer said...

I'm going to go see this today. I'm always up for a good horror movie this time of the year, in the theater. I've actually avoided all the TV spots, so here's hoping I can get rattled.

Jeff Allard said...

Hope you like it, CB! I've heard from some who were underwhelmed by Sinister but, despite some shaky aspects, it still struck a nerve with me.