Sinister Review 
Posted by Joseph Lee on 10.13.2012
Everything a home needs: quality craftsmanship, a spacious backyard and a big box of snuff films in the attic.
*Ethan Hawke as Ellison
*Juliet Rylance as Tracy
*Clare Foley as Ashley
*Michael Hall D'Addario as Trevor
*Fred Thompson as Sheriff
*James Ransone as Deputy
*Vincent D'Onofrio as Professor Jonas
Story: Found footage helps a true-crime novelist realize how and why a family was murdered in his new home, though his discoveries put his entire family in the path of a supernatural entity.
Trivia: Scott Derrickson's previous horror films include The Exorcism Of Emily Rose and Hellraiser: Inferno.
You know a movie is going to be different from most Hollywood horror films when it opens with the murder of a family in one single shot that sticks around perhaps longer than it should. As the audience watches this family post-mortem, the shot holds just long enough for the movie to get under the skin and make you feel uncomfortable. That's the moment that Sinister grabs you. It rarely lets up from a sense of dread the permeates the film from start to finish, and it's not something you see often in mainstream Hollywood horror.
Ethan Hawke plays Ellison, a true crime writer who had his last big hit ten years ago. Since then he's been chasing the dream by exploiting other crimes for his works, and letting the police no he's not a fan of their work. This leads to him getting a cold welcome from the moment he arrives in his new home, which happens to be where the last family was murdered. But Ellison, being as determined as he is, neglected to tell his wife this and certainly didn't let his children know. After all, it's not like he believes in ghosts.
He then goes into his attic and finds a box full of home videos with innocuous titles: "BBQ '78", "Yard Work", "Sleepy Time". Unfortunately what he finds is anything but, as it's a series of murders captured on a Super 8 camera. In each video is a mysterious and ghoulish figure. This leads him to begin working on what could be his greatest work to date, but there may be a very high price for sticking his nose where it doesn't belong.
In a time where many horror films are aimed at teenagers, Sinister is a horror film for adults. I've read that director Scott Derrickson was going for a PG-13, but the images depicted in his film were so dark and disturbing it was enough for the MPAA to give him an R. I can buy that. You're not going to get something like The Apparition or The Possession here. It's clearly looking to go after those who aren't afraid to handle some grim story-telling with its scares.
That's the biggest thing to take from this. Sinister is very scary. Not in the obvious jump-scare way (although there are a few of those that are distracting) but in the skin-crawling kind of way. It establishes a dreadful tone and keeps it up through the whole picture, never letting the audience feel safe. It's quite effective in what it sets out to do, which is disturb its audience and make them very unnerved as they leave the theater. You don't normally see mainstream horror go this dark (and it's not even as dark as some indie films out there) but this one isn't afraid to cross the lines necessary. It does this not for shock value, but to tell a story. It just happens to be a shocking and scary one.
The story is also well-crafted. While there are some flaws in this movie (more on that later), the story is not one of them. For the most part (there is one glaring plot hole), everything it sets up is paid off later, and some things even come up later that you didn't even realize were important until you see them. It's good at building a mystery and then adequately explaining that mystery without making it too obvious. There are some things you may guess ahead of time, but only because it's the only choice to make for a coherent tale.
There are moments when it breaks the tension for some needed comedic relief, but these moments are few and mostly come from Deputy "So-and-So" (his name is never given), played by Ransone. He's a fanboy of Ellison with some forensic background, and he comes off as awkward in most of his moments. But Ransone's performance also makes him endearing through that awkwardness, and it makes every moment he's in a much needed comfort after watching Ellison watch the murders of several families over and over to get clues. I also enjoyed Vincent D'Onofrio's all too brief role as Professor Jonas.
But there are some problems, and that comes in the way of character development. While the children aren't as developed as one would like, they don't have any less development than a supporting child character in any other recent horror film. Compare this to Insidious, which had about just as much development for the child the film is centered around before it places him in a coma. We get what we need to know, and hope that the charisma and personality is enough to carry it through. It's not completely satisfying, but in terms of lessening the tension, it's not a deal-breaker.
What does actively hurt the movie is the portrayal of its lead as an unintelligent, almost sleazy opportunist. This is supposed to be a family man, but it's established quite early and often that he's only concerned with his work. In a way, that's fine. There have been plenty of horror movies where the father figure was driven by his work and cold to his family. But it's when he reveals exactly why he cares so much about his work and why he's willing to move his family into the scene of a mass murder that you lose any interest in what happens to him, because he's crossed a line. It is almost enough to ruin the finale. Luckily the tone, story and in particular, Ethan Hawke's performance, are enough to carry it past the finish line.
If, like myself, you were into the movie enough to forgive its character issues, then you will definitely find yourself enjoying this. It's suspenseful and full of dread, and is one of the darker mainstream horror films in recent memory.
The 411: Sinister, while obviously flawed, is one of the better horror films this year. It is very dark and suspenseful in tone and that carries through past any misgivings for a scary ride with a smartly told mystery that is aimed at adults and doesn't play down to its audience. This definitely a step above most of Hollywood's horror output this year and definitely the scariest so far.