Sinister is a clichéd Hollywood horror where the protagonist never turns on the light, never talks to the police, and always investigates on their own with either a knife, a baseball bat, or both – but don’t let that put you off. Although contrived, Sinister is still a “jump out of your seat” type of film, and perfect for you to see with your girlfriend, so you can let her cuddle into you at the scary parts.
These “scary” parts are for the most part shown in the two-minute trailer, and with the rise of “found footage” films, you might wonder how Sinister will be any different. The only real reason to then see the film is to get a sense of the plot, which in this case isn’t difficult. Ellison (Ethan Hawke), a true-crime novelist desperate for another best-seller, moves with his family into a house that once saw a family brutally murdered – all but one girl, abducted and never found.
Like most struggling writers, he ends up spending too much time watching movies; this is after finding a box of Super 8 spools in his attic, innocently titled along the lines of “Hanging with the Family”. This, however, turns out to be the grainy footage of the family being hung, to which we were previously treated as the (somewhat cheesy) opening scene of the film. Contained within each of the other reels are documentary-style serial killings that date back decades.
This Paranormal Activity-esque footage is the most chilling part of Sinister, and they introduce a new character – who we soon discover is coincidentally paranormal. This villain that haunts Ellison is scarier in its earliest scenes, in which it’s barely visible, but as its features become clearer, it looks more like a blend of the wrestler Kane and a member of Slipknot, thus losing much of the fear factor and making the audience feel silly for having even jumped. On top of that, he’s called Mr. Boogie – screaming “childish and harmless”.
Genre tropes collide when he realises he’s found footage of Satanic-edged murders, his house has a scorpion and snake problem, and the only person he tells about the reels is a police officer whom he swears to secrecy. The officer (James Ransone) is another of the film’s highlights: he adds a subtle comedy element, and although appearing incompetent at first, he soon becomes a supportive and on-the-ball complement to Hawke, who throws in a great performance as a man torn between saving his family and scoring another best-seller.
The build up of the main narrative to the conclusion didn’t seem at all overworked, but with a 1 hour and 50 minute run time, and roughly 1 hour and 40 minutes of build-up, it felt like there was too much focus on building tension and not enough on the climax. The ending practically contradicts all the effort that preceded it; unsatisfying, it unequivocally wastes a film with plenty of potential.
Overall, Sinister isn’t sub-standard, providing authentic chills and jump scares, and demonstrating how tension should be done right. It’s a lot more terrifying than your typical gore- and violence-filled rubbish, but its last ten minutes let it down by far.