31 Days to Scare – Sinister

The Facts:

Synopsis: Found footage helps a true-crime novelist realize how and why a family was murdered in his new home, though his discoveries put his entire family in the path of a supernatural entity.

Stars: Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, James Ransone, Fred Dalton Thompson, Nicholas King, Clare Foley, Victoria Leigh, Juliet Rylance, Michael Hall D’Addario

Director: Scott Derrickson

Rated: R

Running Length: 110 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: This year has been a curious one for horror.  We started off on shaky ground with The Devil Inside, found some good scares in The Woman in Black, were puzzled by Silent House, discovered the wonderful Cabin in the Woods, avoided The Raven, hated The Apparition, were impressed with The Possession, and enjoyed our trip to The House at the End of the Street.  Now, 2012 is showing that it still has one last scare up its sleeve with the devious Sinister…well at least until Paranormal Activity 4 comes out next week.  

While it doesn’t have has many secret plot points like Cabin in the Woods, I’m still going to keep this as relatively spoiler free as I can.  I’d encourage you to skip viewing the trailer or TV ads as they do give away some of the scares that don’t play quite as well if you know what you’re going to see.  What the ads don’t show is that the film goes beyond being merely scary and dips its gnarled toes into the genuinely unpleasant category. 

The startlingly youthful looking Hawke plays a washed up true-crime novelist that had his 15 minutes of fame a decade ago and is on the hunt for his next shot at the big time.  Dragging his family to a new town and new home, he is focused on delving into the mystery surrounding a murdered family and a missing child.  What he finds in the attic sets into motion a series of events/scares/spooky occurrences that leave you wondering why anyone would stick around to see what’s going bump in the night.  More than a few times when a loud noise would awaken a family member I silently said to myself “I’d be outta there” and thought that I would happily stay in a Holiday Inn for the evening instead.

Whereas the majority of horror films are interested in the easy scare, Sinister seems to be more invested in fashioning increasingly disturbing situations to present to its audience.  From frame one, the audience is placed in the role of voyeur to acts of violence that are pretty horrific in their, ahem, execution…especially in that they involve the wholesale murder of adults as well as children.  For some, I think the film will be too much to take and several of the images still linger in my mind after a restless night of tossing and turning.   

Sinister distances itself from the run-of-the-mill horror film in a few appreciated ways.  There seems to be equal weight given to the scares and character development…maybe a little too much so.  Though director/screenwriter Derrickson (who also wrote and directed The Exorcism of Emily Rose) writes well, a few of these extended familial arguments go on a little too long and are a tad too repetitive to land as well as they should.  That’s overall a fault of Derrickson the director who probably could have trimmed these scenes and not actors like Hawke and Rylance who do their best with overtly hokey-pokey dialogue.

Derrickson isn’t afraid to let the film be talky at a few select points but there are some times when less is more.  Too often actors will inexplicably narrate what they are doing or thinking…a gimmick used when the director doesn’t know how else to convey something to their audience.  Why does Hawke write and speak the line “Where is Stephanie?” when we already know that’s the crime he’s investigating.  Also, a sage local yokel cop (Ransone) is good comic relief…until you understand that he’s really just an onscreen guide for audiences that haven’t been able to keep up.

At its core, the film is a mystery waiting to be solved and if you’re like me you’ll catch on pretty fast what’s happening.  The film makes a sharp left turn about halfway through and though the film becomes less and less interesting after that it doesn’t become less effective.  Thanks to an eerie and dissonant sound design and clever misdirection, you’ll probably get the scares you’re looking for at one point or another.  I absolutely was caught off guard a few times and nearly levitated out of my seat along with the rest of my group. 

Delivering the scares it promises in addition to some added nightmare-inducing images, Sinister is a solid horror film from a team of players that take a sick fascination at pushing the limits of our will.  I wanted to look away several times but couldn’t take my eyes off of what was unspooling onscreen.   It’s a pretty bleak and unforgiving film overall so make sure you go into it prepared to get yourself back to a happy place somehow after.

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