In Films, S by David Watson

Ellison Oswald (Ethan Hawke) is a true-crime writer desperate for one last bestseller after a series of flops.

Ellison Oswald (Ethan Hawke) is
a true-crime writer desperate for one last bestseller after a series of flops.
For his latest, he’s
investigating the deaths of a family found hanged in their back yard and to
help get a feel for the material he decides to move his wife and children into
the house where it all happened. That’s a good idea, right? Nothing could possibly go wrong with
that? His previous books tended to
highlight the failings of the police involved in the cases which makes him Mr
Popular with the local law enforcement who give him a very frosty reception
upon his arrival. Oh, and he also deems it unnecessary to mention the brutal
murders to his wife (Juliet Rylance)
and their two kids. Not your best move, mate. Well, so far, so familiar.

But, whilst storing belongings in the attic Ellison discovers a box
full of Super 8 home movies seemingly left by the last tenants (the murdered
family he’s researching). When he plays them on the projector however he soon
finds a lot more than family frolics in the pool and events take a distinct
turn towards the Sinister of the title …

Another surprise hit from this year’s FrightFest lineup, Sinister is
very effective at doing what it’s supposed to do…scare the hell out of you and
it’s surprising how so many so called ‘horror’ films fail to come close to that
these days. The script itself doesn’t really break any new ground and the story
does seem a familiar one, it’s essentially a found footage movie, but the
film’s execution is done so well that none of this seems to matter.

Ethan Hawke’s believable portrayal of the increasingly distraught
writer really carries this film along. It’s his central performance that keeps
the film from veering too far into hokum territory. It’s nicely shot, mostly within
the confines of the dark house, lending much to the claustrophobia and tension
of the film. It’s the subtleties that make Sinister work so well, with director
Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism Of Emily Rose) proving you
don’t need to bludgeon your audience over the head with visuals (ok, possibly
not the best analogy!) to really scare them, and there are some effective ‘jump
out of your seat’ moments. The sound design helps a great deal, from the almost
dead silences when moving round the house, to the blaring stabs of sound to
emphasise those shock moments.

There is also some nicely played humour in the film in the scenes with
Ellison and a local deputy (James
, Ziggy from The Wire)
giving just the right amount of light relief before hitting the darker material
again. You do wonder though where the makers of these one word adjective film
titles will go when they run out of ideas. Naughty? Irked? Peeved?

Produced by the team that gave us Paranormal
and Insidious, Sinister is
unsettling from the get go, particularly during the opening scenes of the
family being hanged. It’s also very effective at delivering the scares and,
although not a masterpiece by any means, it does do what it says on the tin.
They don’t make them like this very often any more…