|release date||October 12 2012|
|writer||Scott Derrickson, Robert Cargill|
|starring||Ethan Hawke, James Ranson, Juliet Rylance|
|tagline||Once you see him, nothing can save you.|
|trailer 1||Trailer #1|
Upon first inspection, Sinister appears to be a scary, complex film. After mulling about it in one’s mind, it can easily be torn apart quite quickly. The plot revolves around Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke), a true crime writer, who continuously hauls his family across the United States in order to write his next best seller. This time he has moved his own family into a house where the murder of another happened. The family were hanged from the tree in the backyard, with a daughter never being found. The twist in this film comes when Oswalt finds a box of 8mm films in the attic – each detailing a sickening murder of a family.
While this set up would prove quite unnerving, and yes, the films are disturbing if one thinks too deeply about them, the addition of a possibly supernatural subplot emerges and confuses details. Actually, there are quite a few subplots that never fully are explained or come to fruition. Oswalt apparently gets so involved in his work that he ends up with a whisky bottle constantly in his possession. This adds detail initially to is he/isn’t he seeing things or are the supernatural aspects part of his drunken imagination, but we never move beyond that. His son has night terrors which causes the boy to be found in awkward places – such as a moving box, or the bushes outside the house. Apparently, these night terrors have been going on for years and they’ve never been as bad as they apparently now are since the Oswalt’s have moved into the hanging family’s house. Do we learn more about this? No, it falls away.
The largest hole in Sinister is the idea that this child soul eating entity, Bughuul or Mr. Boogie, is mentioned, half ass explained, and we never get anything else. The image of this creature is quite disturbing, and yet we only get glimpses. Yes, this could be a scare tactic, but if this guy is truly the point of the film, then why do we have to leave it fully up to our imagination as to why or how he is doing what he is doing? There is a lack of substance that turns this film ultimately into a huge disappointment where it could have been given at least an ounce more.
That being said, Sinister is amazing in one aspect: the sound. From the click of the projector in Oswalt’s office adding a sense of dread, to the parallel of the score, the sounds of the film instill a gut felt terror. There are little moments throughout that give a jolt here and there – mostly all pertaining to Mr. Boogie which, in turn, makes it that much more disappointing. The DVD definitely delivers on exploitation of this superb element, however, with the audio feature.
The DVD is a great clean transfer – looking almost Blu-ray quality in many scenes. Pores and wrinkles can be seen on Hawke’s face, however, the movie appears to be dark at times. It is on purpose and part of the atmosphere, however it can be distracting.
A deleted scene is included which adds more background to the hanging family murders. This deleted scene stars Angela Bettis as a next door neighbor giving her interpretation of the family up to and after their murder. It is available with or without commentary. The commentary reveals that the role was written specifically for her. The scenes were cut due to pacing. However, they could’ve added information, though the writers say are unnecessary.
The DVD is packaged with both a Digital Copy and an Ultraviolet copy, making it seem fancier than it is. The average person will grab a copy and think they’re getting something extra special, when really, they’re not. Other features include commentary with director Scott Derrickson alone and commentary with Derrikson and cowriter C. Robert Cargill. Two featurettes which pertain to the film, True Crime Authors and Living in a House of Death, are included on the DVD as well. The 9 minute feature on true crime writers gives a bit of substance as it helps explain Oswalt’s dire need to finish his book to perhaps get justice for the murder victimes. The house feature, however, is entertaining because it revolves around our repulsion and, at the same time, intrigue with homes associated with murders. And, of course, a trailer is included.
In the end, for the $3,000,000 budget, Sinister is pretty entertaining despite its flaws, which are almost a bit too heavy to overlook.
DVD Score: 7/10
Do you believe in Santa Claus? The Easter Bunny? Maybe the Tooth Fairy? You’re going to need an even higher level of suspension of disbelief in order to stand behind Lionsgate/Summit’s supernatural Sinister, the latest genre offering from Exorcism of Emily Rose director Scott Derrickson. While the chiller will cloud your mind with extreme visuals and a brooding score/sound design, you shouldn’t be tricked into thinking this is a good movie – because it’s not – yet there’s something there that will resonate with viewers well through the night. I guess success is measured in dollars, right? Good or bad, Sinister will be the next Insidious.
The film follows Ethan Hawke as Ellison, a true-crime author clinging on to his 15-minutes of fame from a book published 10 years prior. He moves his family into the house of a grisly unsolved murder where a family was collectively hung from a tree in their backyard. He hopes to solve the crimes and return to the limelight that he so desperately wants to rekindle (even at the expense of his own family). While moving into the house, he discovers a box of 8mm videos in the attic that all depict a different family being murdered execution style: a hanging, a drowning, a burning and more. Within the footage lurks a creature, a ghoul called “Mr. Boogie”. The further he investigates the worse things get in the house…
… but the structure of Sinister is absolutely infuriating, and unsurprisingly falls into the same trap that Exorcism of Emily Rose did. I call this “stop and go” horror, a film that continually takes the viewer out of the experience in order to sit them down and explain it. It’s like a sales pitch mixed together with a cool slideshow presentation. The only difference between Derrickson pitching this in a conference room with scary footage is that the conference room is replaced with a poorly dressed house (it’s understood that they just moved in, and are poor, but the house looks like a cheap set) and Derrickson is replaced by Vincent D’Onofrio, a demonologist named Professor Jonas. The viewer is continually removed from the haunting visuals to watch as Ellison and Professor Jonas/his wife/Deputy Dewey (not really, but yes, really) torture them through exposition-heavy scenes that literally walk them from A to Z. It gets so bad that the audience is explained the demon’s (also known as a Ghoulie) entire motive, which in itself is absolutely ridiculous. Also, the way Ellison reacts make little sense. His reactions to some of the horrific things don’t even come close to, say, Nicolas Cage watching the 8mm footage in 8MM, and for him to continue to live in that house while he owns another house doesn’t make a lick of sense. Why put his family through all of that when he witnesses stuff that would scare most people into a coma?
And here’s the frustrating conundrum:
Sinister is stupid. So incredibly stupid. But it IS SCARY. SUPER SCARY. Does that make it good? Absolutely not, but it does suggest that there are some reasons to see the film. The discovered 8mm footage is haunting and disturbing as hell, there’s a lawnmower shocker that was easily one of the best scares in the past few years, and all of the footage of the ghoulie will make your skin crawl (It’s just so hard to get behind when Ellison prints out a screengrab of the ghoulie, pins it on his wall, and stares at it like it’s just some dude in a mask). The design of the ghoulie is absolutely astounding and, until he comes full frame and center, he’s absolutely terrifying. This is all enhanced by one of the most brilliant score/sound designs in recent memory. Some of the horror elements in Sinister will leave you shaking and it’s definitely the kind of film that resonates with viewers as they’re lying in bed that night. Albeit, it’s all a sham (cool parlor tricks); it would be a tragedy to call it quality horror.
To recap, Sinister is a plot-laden mess that requires an incredibly high amount of suspension of disbelief. The best way to describe it is 8MM meets Paranormal Activity. In an odd turn of events, this film is still highly recommended for those seeking one good scare and an unnerved stomach, it’s highly effective.