Saturday, April 20, 2013

Sinister (Movie Review)

Sinister is one of two horror movies I've seen recently which featured convincing performances, a scary premise and skillful direction. There are only a few characters but many scares which make Sinister live up to it's title, with twists which agonize the audience as they see terrible things through the eyes of the main character.

The protagonist, Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke), is a real life crime writer who hasn't written a hit since one of his earliest books, Kentucky Blood, and is looking to catch lightning in a bottle once again by moving to a small town with his family to investigate another unsolved murder. What the rest of his family doesn't know, is that the house has a dark history and the whole town (including the Sheriff) disapproves of their presence. This is not the first time the family has moved to a small town with an unsettling story, and his wife Tracy (Juliet Rylance) is not afraid to let him know that their life is not ideal. Oswalt's life and work are separate and it's one of the rules of the house not to go into his office but also for him to lock the door, he is secluded in nothing but the horror of his work. 

While Oswalt dives headfirst into his novel, he uncovers a box of disturbing 8mm home films (in the attic of all places), which show multiple families being brutally murdered in different ways. As he uncovers more gruesome murders, all filmed by an unknown person, he realizes he has more than he can handle but he is not willing to turn to the police because this could be his return to fame. But at what cost is he willing to sacrifice his career for his family? This is the question that echoed throughout the film and the conflict which eats away at Oswalt.

Hawke is believable and as the content gets more gruesome he starts hitting the bottle more and even smokes at one point. His daughter takes a liking to drawing but one day she draws a mysterious figure in makeup who appears in the films. His son suffers from night terrors and they get progressively worse as Oswalt uncovers more about the house and the figure, later named Mr. Boogie. 

The cast is small but the film ultimately benefits from the small number of people Oswalt interacts with because it adds to his solitude and misery. He enlists help with a dimwitted deputy who wants his police work to be in the acknowledgements of his book, and a college professor (Vincent D'Onofrio) who knows the legend behind Oswalt's findings. Both characters push the plot further just as the house and the films push Oswalt to his breaking point.

Most of the scares happen at night with the sound of steps, thumps or shuddering. The music is often slow and silent until something strange happens and during the climax Oswalt is filled with paranoia and fear for his family. Sinister is smart in it's patient delivery leading up to the conclusion and I was reminded of The Amityville Horror films which are similar, but not as effective. The father in that movie is also the lead target but in Sinister the dad is much smarter and more complex than in any of those films where the families stays in the house running in circles. 

In Sinister, Oswalt is outcast from his family and being pulled into much more than he bargained for and the audience wants him to survive with his family more than they want him to solve the murders. The conclusion could alienate some people who didn't enjoy the rest of it but if you enjoy horror movies like I do, you'll know this one is one of the good ones. 

My Rating:

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