A ‘Sinister’ Trend In This Year’s Batch Of Halloween Flicks
Published: Sunday, October 21, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
Low-budget horror film Sinister features amongst the yearly batch of Halloween flicks hoping to turn audience fear into yet another sequel or franchise. Although Sinister shows potential for standing out in the overcrowded genre, it ultimately falls short due to its weak plot development and predictable scares. Its use of “found footage,” while delivering some of the films scarier moments, seems to conform with the genre as opposed to offering something new.
The film begins with promise. Super-8 footage shows a family of four with nooses around their necks standing under a tree branch. An adjacent branch begins to fall, acting as a counterweight and lifting the family into the air. After a short, weak struggle, each family member succumbs to their inevitable fate and sways lifelessly from the branch. We’re instantly captivated by the questions that will take much of the 110-minute film to answer. Who are these people? Why were they killed? And most importantly, who filmed the murder?
Enter Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke), a true crime writer who moves his wife Tracy (Juliet Rylance) and two children into the very house where the earlier scene took place. Through an unpleasant welcome from the local sheriff, we learn that the murdered family had a daughter who went missing after the crime. Struggling to find his next big hit, Ellison uses the mystery as the source of his new novel. He hits the jackpot when a box of super-8 film reels and a projector conveniently appear in the attic. Ready to watch home movies of previous tenants, Ellison instead is sickened as three gruesome murders play out on the super-8 reels. The methods of each murder are horrific and represent the pinnacle of creativity and originality in Sinister.
The entire plot only takes place over a few days, yet somehow Sinister still seems to drag on. All the essentials are thrown in to ensure some jumps along the way—rustles in the bushes, swinging doors, and noises in the attic. The first major fright occurs while Ellison is creeping through the house during a power cut with a flashlight (who even owns a flashlight anymore?). And that’s just on the first night.
Ellison delves further into his investigations, attempting to connect the three murders with help from a local deputy and professor in occult science (Vincent D’Onofrio). After connections to a child-eating Babylonian god are uncovered (seriously), the strange occurrences at the Oswalt residence worsen and begin to take a toll on the whole family. The inevitable twist unravels as Ellison scrambles to get his family to safety. The final climax is ironically the weakest point of the film, revealing the mysteries in a so-so fashion that does not seem nearly worth the wait.
Sinister is definitely not the worst horror film released in recent years, but with previous work of director Scott Derrickson including The Exorcism of Emily Rose, more was to be expected. The film struggles to find its place as a horror, skirting back and forth between its commitment to the slasher or supernatural subgenre. Despite the shortcomings in its plot, Sinister masks its low budget effectively (despite Ellison wearing the same cardigan from start to end), and the cast breathes life into its one-dimensional characters. Ethan Hawke nails his characters meltdown from focused author to overwhelmed sleuth, and newcomers Clare Foley and Michael Hall D’Addario shone in the little screen time they received as Ellison’s children. British stage actress Juliet Rylance proved an odd casting choice as wife Tracy Oswalt, not just for her unfitting accent but also for her overdramatized acting that clearly screamed ties to her theatre background.
Although there were certain jump-in-your-seat moments, the ultimate reveal at the end of the film did little to make up for the fact that simply not a lot happened along the way. For those new to the horror genre, or those who prefer to sleep at night, Sinister is your Halloween film. For those more dedicated horror fans, maybe the reviews for Paranormal Activity 4 are better.