Directed by: Scott Derrickson
Premise: A true crime writer moves his family into a house where the previous owners were murdered. While researching his next book, the writer discovers a box of Super 8 films in the attic that unleash a supernatural presence in the house.
What Works: The trend in vogue at the moment in the horror genre is tales of domestic hauntings. Typically in these films, families move into a new house and are plagued by ghosts or other terrors. The year 2012 has already seen the release of The Woman in Black, House at the End of the Street, The Possession, and The Devil Inside and many other films like this have been released in recent years including Insidious, Orphan, Dream House, and Mirrors as well as the ongoing Paranormal Activity series. Of the films in this trend, Sinister is one of the better, if not the best, of them and it manages to be a very scary film. The output of Sinister’s director Scott Derrickson has ranged from the troubled but intriguing Hellraiser: Inferno to the disastrous 2008 remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still. Sinister is among Derrickson’s better works and he sets up and executes scares very well. This picture includes some very strong imagery, especially in the Super 8 films discovered in the attic and watched by the main character. These films-within-the-film have an authentic quality and and the way they are presented is especially interesting. It is discovered that these films document various murders and Sinister takes on a very creepy and sordid quality that exceeds similar movies like 8MM. The violence of the Super 8 films is smartly staged and edited so that viewers have the impression they have seen more carnage than they actually have, which suits the style of this picture. There are gory films and there are scary films and although the two categories sometimes overlap, they usually don’t. Creating and maintaining an atmosphere of dread, which is critical to making a scary film work, depends on keeping the audience on tender hooks. Gore often spoils that because it reveals too much but the makers of Sinister provide enough violence to perpetuate fear on the viewer’s part while not giving the film away. Sinister has a compelling relationship between the family members and the troubled marriage between the writer (Ethan Hawke) and his wife (Juliet Rylance) gives the story a subtext that deepens the picture. Sinister also has a strong supporting performance James Ransone as a local police deputy and Ransone is able to inject some comic relief while also transcending the expectations of the typical small town police officer in a horror film.
What Doesn’t: Sinister is a better film than most of the other haunted house pictures that have been released lately but it still follows the same format and in that respect it is predictable. There is nothing new here and it would be nice to see filmmakers try to do something more ambitious with the material. Ghost stories are in part about unresolved issues and ghosts are often representations of personal or cultural sins of days gone by. The filmmakers of Sinister do have the obligatory paranormal investigator but they don’t do anything interesting with the mythology of their ghost. A few elements of the haunting don’t quite make sense, like how the Super 8 films were created and keep showing up, although films like this often benefit from leaving some mystery intact. As a matter of filmmaking craft the makers of Sinister are generally good at creating a fearful atmosphere and gradually work their way up to a scare but a few of the shocks are forced, which makes them more obnoxious than frightening. The film doesn’t have too many of these moments but it does end on one that sullies what is otherwise a strong conclusion to a well-made film.
Bottom Line: Sinister may not do anything innovative but the filmmakers are successful at making a scary movie and it is one of better entries in the recent trend of haunted house pictures.
Episode: #411 (October 28, 2012)