'Sinister' (2012) Movie Review

It was impossible to avoid the early buzz for Scott Derrickson's Sinister. The film screened at the South by Southwest Film Festival back in early March and the positive response was immediate. Walking in with expectations was unavoidable. Will it manage to not only be scary, but also narratively engaging? Will it be scary without wholly relying on jump scares? The questions are valid and the answers vary, but what's certain is what scares some doesn't necessarily scare everyone, but Sinister taps into so many different forms of terror there will surely be something for everyone.

Grade: B

Sinister"Sinister" is a Summit Entertainment release, directed by Scott Derrickson and is rated R for disturbing violent images and some terror.

The cast includes Ethan Hawke, Vincent D'Onofrio, James Ransone, Juliet Rylance, Fred Dalton Thompson, Michael Hall D'Addario and Clare Foley.

For more information on this film including pictures, trailers and a detailed synopsis click here.

Ethan Hawke stars as Ellison Oswalt, a true crime novelist who, along with his wife (Juliet Rylance), daughter (Clare Foley) and son (Michael Hall D'Addario), has just moved into a new home so he can research and write his latest story. With a hit book several years in his past, he's looking to recapture that lost glory and this latest story may just be the ticket as it involves a family that met an unfortunate and unsolved demise -- four of them were hung from the tree in their backyard and the youngest daughter went missing entirely. Ellison hopes to find a resolution to the story and get his name back on the bestseller list and is determined to do so at most any cost.

It isn't long before he stumbles on what initially looks like a blessing, but turns into a curse. Upstairs in the attic of their new home -- a home he doesn't tell his wife actually belonged to the deceased family -- Ellison finds a box of home movies, which appear to have been left behind. Old Super 8 reels, labeled years apart from one another, and a projector fill the box. Knowing the house he's in, Ellison can't help but be curious, but his curiosity leads him to a discovery he didn't expect, and one that could get him the story he desires.

If anyone attempts to tell you more, quickly slap them across the face. To know more is to ruin the evolution of the story, most of which you can see coming, but is done with enough imagination and honesty the tension remains.

The biggest hurdle any viewer is going to have to get over is the "Just get out of the house!" reflex we all have when we see films where things go bump in the night and creepy things begin to happen. Then again, the reason we don't want a character to go exploring in the attic after a loud bang nearly scares us half to death, is because we would be too scared to go up there ourselves. If a director has done his/her job that fear remains as the character (who inexplicably doesn't seem to share our level of fear) climbs the ladder and goes snooping around in the dead of night. In Sinister, Derrickson does it right.

Even though we would still never go upstairs, Derrickson and co-writer C. Robert Cargill (online film blogger-turned-screenwriter) have given Ellison enough motivation to do the things he does. On top of that, the scares the film holds are never one and the same. While jump scares do occur, there is a level of creepiness throughout that keeps you on edge. One scene in particular, where Derrickson holds on a young girl peering over Ethan Hawke's shoulder, is downright unsettling. Scares in movies are normally limited to a few single frames, the fact he holds this shot so long only stretches out the dread.

Sinister also does a nice job of being truly horrifying without bathing itself in blood and gore. For as gnarly as some of the situations in this film are, what's on screen never delves into torture porn territory, the focus remains the story and the atmosphere surrounding it. I found myself laughing at times, not due to the film being funny, but because the film took me out of my comfort zone in a way that was as terrifying as it was entertaining.

I enjoyed Ethan Hawke in the lead role as he seems to have a way of playing characters in trying situations with a level of believability that manages to keep you engaged as a viewer and caring for his well-being. And James Ransone, playing a backwoods deputy, comes along to inject the film with a bit of humor, giving the audience brief moments of reprieve.

The only real issue I had came in the end, which lacks the same kind of dedicated execution the rest of the film was given. It felt rushed and came across as the attention to detail was lost. The story to that point had largely been a mystery and the revelation and subsequent happenings came across as cheap horror tricks with the audience given too many details. We started to see too much and some of the horror was lost. Fortunately, the overall ride was exciting enough to give this an easy recommend.