It takes a lot to get me to see a horror movie today. There are so many that feel like cookie cutter versions of each other each trying to be the next Saw or Paranormal Activity, warranting an unlimited flood of sequels for years to come.
On the surface, Sinister didn’t seem like anything particularly attention grabbing. There’s a demon who eats children and blah blah bah. Oh look, Ethan Hawke! But still not really enough.
But amidst positive reviews, I read into it a little more. I discovered that the film is actually the long-gestating project of Aint It Cool News blogger, Massawyrm, who wrote the script. Curious to see how “one of us” would fare if we actually got to write movies instead of writing ABOUT them, I decided to give it a chance.
That’s not how you watch a projector, dude.
And I’m glad I did. This is a terrifying film. Not a perfect one by any means, but a terrifying one nonetheless. It’s a combination of well shot and scored horror that produces quality jump moments, and truly unsettling concepts that will haunt you long after you see it.
Ellison Oswalt is a “true crime” writer who rose to international fame when one of his books, Kentucky Blood, solved a real life murder mystery. Ten years later, after a string of subsequent failures, Oswalt is on the hunt for his next hit and he thinks he’s found it in Pennsylvania.
A family was hung from a tree in their own back yard, and their youngest daughter went missing afterward. Oswalt moves his family into their old house (unbeknownst to them) and starts doing research to figure out what happen to them and her. An old box of Super 8 reels in the attic shows him a string of other grisly family murders that shock him to his core. He starts connecting the dots, but unfortunately, finds himself involved as a piece of the puzzle.
Surprise! It’s a box full of ASBESTOS!
The film is a slow, gradual decline toward madness. At first, we’re looking for a murderer, then a serial killer, then a cult ritual sacrificer, then an actual demon. It’s kind of a shame that every trailer skips straight to the end, because the reveal probably would have been better unraveling slowly. But hey, gotta sell tickets with scary demon faces I guess.
The supernatural stuff works sometimes, but others it seems the film may have been better just sticking with plain old human dementia like say, The Strangers. The disturbing parts of the film aren’t from the ghostly figures running around Oswalt’s house, they’re in the truly unnerving home video tapes that show each family murder being committed by forces unknown.
It’s good when a film answers its obvious plot holes directly, as too many horror films these days just saw “ah, screw it” when it comes to plot inconsistency. Questions like “Why does a powerful ancient demon need to run a family over with a lawnmower to kill them?” or “Why does he need to record the event on an archaic video tape?” are actually answered in a satisfying way in the closing moments of the film.
It’s a bit too long and there are no less than four different scenes of Oswalt creeping through his dark house at night hearing noises. It gets repetitive after a while, but I’ll be damned if it’s not crazy intense. Other than Oswalt however, the characters are a bit thin, which include an inexplicably British wife and a son that has night terrors that exist for no other reason than to jump out at his dad (still asleep mind you) during the aforementioned “creep around in the dark” scenes from his hiding place of a cardboard box or bit of shrubbery.
Completely normal sleepwalking behavior.
The end of the film is probably its most powerful aspect, with a turn I can honestly say I didn’t see coming, which is a true rarity in the genre these days. Not only that, but it didn’t feel forced, and was instead a logical explanation of the clues we’d been given. Well, as logical as any movie about a child-eating demon can be. In that sense, it shares certain themes with Paranormal Activity, but here there’s no beating around the bush for four movies before we have any idea what’s actually going on.
It’s a movie that’s blown past its incredibly modest $3M budget, and it does truly impressive things with that little cash. Such big returns will likely mean a sequel is a go, as is almost mandatory for any successful horror film. I think it works as a standalone feature, but with the pattern of killings and the chilling ending, you can see how the door could be open for further exploration of the concept. But if I see Sinister 7: Revenge of Bagul coming out years from now, someone’s getting punched.
3.5 out of 5 stars