Review: Sinister

As we’re now into October and Halloween fast approaches expect a slew of horror films to be arriving in your local cinemas. One of the most eagerly anticipated of these is the Ethan Hawke lead Sinister and we can safely say that it is the strongest horrors of the year (not that there has been too much competition).

True crime writer, Ellison Oswalt (Hawke) hopes that moving into the site of a twisted unsolved murder scene will inspire him to write another hit novel. However, after the discovery of reels of family home videos turned snuff movies, Oswalt begins to uncover that there may have been benevolent forces involved in these crimes.

As Sinister begins, we are presented with one of the most unsettling opening shots in recent horror cinema. It would be unfair to spoil the initial surprise impact of these for viewers, so we shall not divulge too much about these – other than they will make your hairs stand. Unfortunately, the initial chills of this sequence are soon weakened due to its repeated usage throughout the film. Fortunately, Scott Derrickson who both writes and directs Sinister prepares for this and provides us with several other completely terrifying reels of family footage/snuff films. Set against haunting melancholic music and filmed on super 8 – these murder sequences feel completely convincing, unexpected and utterly horrifying.

Derrickson shows a clear skill at directing the horror film, establishing a stirring sense of tension and the occasional unexpected jump (often linked to the disturbing snuff footage). His screenplay also reflects a clear love for the genre, with several key narrative staples of the horror film making appearances from a Cujo-esque canine to ghostly children and disfigured demons. It is when Sinister begins to touch on the occult that it scares reach their peak – after all, everyone is a little scared of the unknown.

Like all horror, there are points where the scares tent to lag and when one thinks about it, aside from the found footage aspect there is not a huge amount in Sinister that will leave you scared. The slow creeks into darkened rooms and loud mysterious bangs display Derrickson’s solid, tense direction – but we have been through these countless times before.

Fortunately, there is a pitch-perfect performance from Ethan Hawke which carries Sinister, when the scares do not. The actor excels as the writer crippled by the pressure to surpass the success of his highly-esteemed debut novel, Kentucky Blood. This desire for another hit is challenged by his desire to protect his family from the benevolent forces at work in his home – providing a solid emotional dynamic to Sinister.

There are enough disturbing chills and frights in Sinister to unsettle the audience, despite the occasional moment which feels a little uninspired. However, this is still by far an excellent horror film and the strongest the genre has seen in 2012.

RATING: 3.5/5  

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