Now that Get Out has been out in theaters for a few weeks, the horror landscape looks to be revving up for a big year as we all await many new releases. With that in mind, here’s a look at a recent favorite among genre enthusiasts, Sinister! The following review will be spoiler free.
Sinister is directed by Scott Derrickson and stars Ethan Hawke and Juliet Rylance. Ellison Oswalt (Hawke) is a washed-up true crime writer that hasn’t had a hit book in almost ten years. In order to heighten his creativity, his family moves into a new house that has connections to multiple murders dating back as early as the 1960’s. To make matters worse, Ellison uncovers super 8 reels that document the murders in the attic of the house. In the midst of learning the cause of all these unsolved homicides, Ellison uncovers a much more unnerving truth.
Sinister is yet another movie released by Blumhouse Productions. I’ve mentioned this in previous articles, but I have a lot of respect Blumhouse. As a smaller studio, its mad a name for itself by producing films with very small budgets and turning them into large amounts of profit. As a relatively new studio, this type of model practically throws risk right out the window while also setting up the studio for continued success moving forward.
Because of Blumhouse, low-budget horror has seen somewhat of renaissance in recent years. These type of films seem to have a solid outline for creating a good movie. They all start out within a mostly confined location, solid director, and an established actor at its core. Sinister seems to follow in the same footsteps with the film taking place in a mostly one house while having Scott Derrickson (who would go on to direct Marvel’s Doctor Strange) behind the camera and Ethan Hawke in front of it. Add in a good premise, and you have yourself a solid movie.
But does Sinister end up paying off like the Blumhouse model would suggest?
What I Liked
To start a discussion of Sinister, the efforts of Scott Derrickson need to be praised. Since Sinister has a budget of only $3 million, there aren’t too many bells and whistles to employ to make the audience enthralled with what’s on screen. Instead, Derrickson sets a sufficiently creepy tone in more clever ways. While somewhat of a cliche, a predominant amount of the film takes place in the dark. It’s so dark at times in the film that I had to adjust the contrast on my television. But this feel lends itself to a more unsettling feel as you wait for something terrible to happen. Derrickson also utilizes an unnerving amount of longer takes which keep you on edge, waiting for something to happen as Ethan Hawke lurks around a corner of his house.
What I Liked…Continued
Another clever tactic to generate scares that the film uses is a very creepy score. There are times during Sinister that the score swells with a bunch of eerie sounds that give you a sense of dread. However, there were plenty of times during the movie where nothing really happened onscreen, but the score made the scene seem scarier than it actually was which aided in ratcheting up the tension of the film. This technique certainly helps create a terrifying atmosphere, assisting each viewer by telling them how to feel in every moment of the film.
Going off of the idea of Sinister ratcheting up the tension, I give the film credit for planting the seeds for a crazy ending but also adding some frightening moments early on in the film. We see it time and time again where a film is too worried about making a memorable ending that the rest of the film becomes largely forgettable, but Sinister sprinkles in some nice scares throughout, creating an engrossing movie.
What I Didn’t Like
However, Sinister does have its issues. First off, the film succumbs to the usual horror cliches. Although there’s some genuinely creepy imagery, the film, for some odd reason, feels the need to resort to jumps scares. Jump scares by nature are not scary, but rather startling. Your brain is unable to decipher the flash of images onscreen as scary since they occur so fast, leading to more frustration than fright when one occurs. Also, while Ethan Hawke gives a nice performance in the lead role, most of his actions, like many actors in a horror movie, fail to be logical. Without giving away crucial plots points, once things begin to go awry, Hawke’s character seemingly makes a smart decision to end his current behavior, but then reverts right back to his previous behavior right before the big finale.
Sinister also contains “information dumps” when our lead character is looking to compile information. In order to uncover more details on a mysterious force, Hawke’s character has a far too convenient chat with a local expert on a little covered subject that feels way too contrived and unnatural to the movie. The movie at times felt like a mystery the way Hawke’s character was piecing information together, but all that intrigue falls apart when the movie decides to employ information dumps as all the suspense is lost.
Overall, Sinister had the makings a modern horror classic with solid acting, a tense setup, and eerie atmosphere, but ultimately couldn’t overcome the typical issues that many horror movies have these days. It gets a B. Sinister is definitely a worthwhile watch for anyone looking for a good scare, but it may not necessarily garner the same type of praise from viewers like other recent horror triumphs.
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