Published on May 25th, 2015 | by Brando Quiring0
In 2012, there was a little horror movie called Sinister that may have looked like throwaway horror fare, but was actually surprisingly effective and atmospheric.
Sinister was a 2012 offering from modern horror writer/director Scott Derrickson that focuses around a writer and his family being haunted by an ancient Babylonian deity.
Our main character is Ethan Hawke’s Ellison Oswalt, a one hit wonder true crime author who is trying his best to recapture the glory of his first book by moving his family into a house where a family was hung from a tree in the backyard. Hawke’s character is not generally a very agreeable person; he’s quite selfish and often puts his desire to recapture his former fame ahead of the wellbeing of his young family.
The film has great pacing, interesting cinematography, and a limited point of perspective that really adds to the claustrophobic feel of the movie. The fact that the story is told entirely from Ellison’s view point adds a lot to the suspense as very early on we feel for his wife and children and want to know what is happening with them, but we spend most of our time sequestered in the office with Ellison while he focuses on his research and blocks our a lot of what is going on around him.
The handful of characters that surround Ellison sort of feel like window dressing; his wife (played by British actress Juliet Rylance) is supportive in spite of her reluctance to go along with Ellison’s plans. His son, Trevor suffers from night terrors that really serve no purpose other than to add a cheap scare (and to remind us he is in the movie at all) and his daughter, Ashley likes to paint on walls and be ignored by her father. The real stand out for the supporting characters is the nameless deputy played by James Ransone, who serves as both a light-hearted foil to the movie’s very dark tone and a source of information that both we and Ellison come to rely on for the expository stuff. The deputy also serves as a foil to Hawke’s thoroughly unlikeable character as he’s very earnest and easy to identify with.
In a modern horror genre full of jump scares and torture porn, Sinister scares us by dropping us into a very dark room in a very long house and then fills the shadows with demons, ghosts, and scorpions and just allows our imaginations to do the work. At least until it’s time for the spirits to make their appearances in the light. The story pacing is great as the mystery is revealed to us through Ellison’s research and the ending is shocking without relying on any ridiculous twists or buckets of gore.
Overall, Sinister is a great ride with some terrific suspense and some scares, with some levity sprinkled throughout to keep the audience from becoming exhausted. It features a main character that we can get behind even if he is sort of a jerk. You want to see him get better and do the right thing for his family, but at each turn he hides what is happening to him from the people around him as he gets more obsessed with the mystery and his quest for fame. With a sequel coming up, I would wonder where they intend to take the story. Sinister is very self-contained and making another one feels very much like Hollywood cashing in on an original concept. Either way, the first one is a great movie to watch all alone in the dark — you’ll end up sleeping with the lights on.