Guys who write for a living shouldn’t live in creepy old houses. It’s just kind of a known thing.
Which brings me to Sinister. The premise is kind of a known thing.
Starting off in true Johnny Quest style (or CSI) somebody dies. Well actually a few people die in a rather cruel twist on a classic. Hanging. So Ethan Hawke, I mean, Ellison moves his family into the house even though it is well-known that people were murdered there. It’s a buyers market to Ellison and nothing is going to stop him from writing an awesome comeback novel. His solution? He just avoids telling his wife the truth. Simple, easy, and bound to cause problems.
Cashing in on the success of other frightening adjectives, like Insidious, this is where Sinister begins.
Looking in the attic is a dramatically placed box full of old film reels. But these film reels are far from average. They contain some grizzly stuff that will scare your parents and girlfriend and maybe even you. Why not simply tell the police? Seeing it as the key to his literary redemption, Ellison is determined to write another smash hit book about a true crime, so much that he locks himself in a room and grows distant from his wife and children as he watches this footage… Not unlike the Amityville Horror and the Shining.
Ellison eventually finds a way to transfer the 8mm footage to his laptop (if it’s that easy how come Hollywood takes so long giving me good movies on DVD??) and starts noticing disturbing sequences as he freeze-frames the footage. It makes for some good jump scares. Do I dare say the stale concept of jump scares has found some fresh breath? Maybe, just maybe. The best scares come when we are forced to watch the murders happen ourselves in frightening detail. He begins to drink…. Not unlike the Amityville Horror and the Shining. His wife starts to get aggressive…. Not unlike… you get the picture.
Sinister saves itself from mediocrity by presenting a more direct supernatural threat than in The Shining or Amityville in the form of… HA! I’m not telling. It’s better you go in blind and enjoy the third act without knowing, as it certainly delivers something. Whether or not you’ll like it will depend on taste.
Where I found Scott Derickson’s the Exorcism of Emily Rose a bit too flat in the suspense arena, he gets a bit closer this time around. And while it won’t bring a revolution to the genre it does bring a small dose of evolution to it, blending traditional cinema and found footage together masterfully and keeping an interesting sense of humor to it throughout. It’s missteps are characters that make us want them dead due to their ignorant attempts to leave all of the lights out, or insist on moving into evil houses. The characters of the police are interesting and fun at times, while Ethan Hawke is more sympathetic than Jack Nicholson or Ryan Reynolds. Unfortunately, Sinister may be a highlight for this season, but it’s doubtful that it will leave a real lasting legacy.