Here’s a rather successful scary movie. Sinister doesn’t aspire to be a modern classic in the horror genre, but it definitely gets under the viewer’s skin thanks to its genuinely creepy atmosphere.
True-crime writer Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) moves into a new house with his wife, Tracy (Juliet Rylance), and their two kids, Trevor (Michael Hall D’Addario) and Ashley (Clare Foley). The house in question has a dark history directly linked to the case that Ellison is researching, although he hasn’t made his family aware of that particular fact. Ellison soon discovers a box containing a projector and some Super 8 home movies in the attic. Once he starts to watch the—as they turn out to be—gruesome movies, strange and ominous things begin to happen. While the local police are not very helpful, Ellison eventually finds an ally in a young deputy (James Ransone) as he tries to get to the bottom of the story.
Sinister generates a fair amount of tension and delivers several well-timed jump scares. The sense of mystery that is present in the film adds an interesting dimension to the proceedings, beyond pure horror.
All of the found home movies that Ellison watches are appropriately scary, with the one featuring a lawn mower being the most horrific. The connection between the events depicted in the Super 8 footage and the film’s present proves to be a clever narrative device that co-writer (with C. Robert Cargill)/director Scott Derrickson deftly uses for maximum impact. However, the most chilling moment in the movie involves a still image on a computer screen; it’s a simple but oh so effective thing.
The strongest aspect of Sinister is arguably its soundscape. Christopher Young’s eerie music and the spooky sound effects contribute greatly to the atmospheric dread of the movie. Additionally, I want to commend the filmmakers for having a little fun with diegetic and non-diegetic sound in certain scenes.
Hawke is convincing in the leading role, and Ransone also stands out by means of a nicely modulated performance. The other cast members, including Vincent D’Onofrio in a small role as Professor Jonas, don’t leave much of an impression.
The film employs more than a few familiar genre clichés and becomes somewhat repetitive after a while, but there’s enough here to warrant a recommendation. Sinister does what any good horror movie should do, even though it probably won’t be haunting the viewer’s nightmares.