Sinister – 2012
Director Scott Derrickson
Starring Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, Fred Dalton Thompson, Nick King, James Ransone, Clare Foley, Michael Hall D’Addario
Screenplay Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill
Sinister is a strange name for this film, even if it is technically correct. As defined: threatening or portending evil, harm, or trouble; ominous, it works. For some reason, I picture Snidely Whiplash being foiled by Rocky and Bullwinkle. The power that comes from this story is not the twisting mustache kind. When at its top form, this film about watching the abyss, while fearing what might be looking back at you.
In his quest to write his next great true crime novel, Ellison Oswalt (Hawke) has moved his family somewhat unwittingly into a house where a recent slaughter of all but one of the family has taken place. Even if he is not being forthcoming to his wife, both she and the kids know the drill and the score. He has done this several times before, leaving the family to fend for themselves at their schools and around the town. Then there’s the house.
Much of the movie is spent in the dark inside of this rather plain-looking brown brick house. Never has 1960’s house style looked so ominous. There are many windows to the house, where much light comes through. Still, it always seems dark. Many tricks you have been exposed to before are used here, some very effectively. Distributed into the mix are several new techniques, many involving the conversion of Super 8 into digital editable footage. The bad guy, sometimes known as Mr. Boogie, is haunting for his simplicity.
His silence and mask, reminiscent of Michael Meyers, permeates through the proceedings as indeed the harbinger of doom, even in relative stillness. What he does, I will not say. It is pretty easy to ascertain, if you pay attention. In paying attention, however, one has the tendency to be too drawn in for their own good. Kind of like Oswalt.
While he spends way too much time sticking around in situations no sane or sober person would, he is, conveniently, not all that often sober. He does have some sobering help in the name of Deputy “So and so” (Ransone) and a professor at the University (D’Onofrio). Unlike most “help” in movies based on horror, these guys actually present useful information in an even-handed way. Still Oswalt finds a way to ignore common sense and move right into the line of fire.
Some of this, like I said before, comes from the addiction that is watching. This is something we all can identify with. As Ellison falls deeper into the trance that is watching these films on projector, we fall with him, hoping we won’t regret it later. The fascinating part is those damn Super 8’s. They have remarkably cheesy, childish and somewhat mocking titles that hint of the sheer terror within: “Family Hanging Out ’11,” “Pool Party ’66,” and “Sleepy Time ’98.” One finds that he or she can’t wait for the next one to be open and reviewed, even if we don’t think we’ll better off for it.
This film is possibly the first to scare so effectively, even with the main character performing just about every clichéd mistake I have ever seen. This is not to say that Hawke was not effective. His character is a truly unlikable writer who is too wrapped up in his own goals to care truly about his true prize, which are his wife and children. One wishes that the consequences could be limited just to him, even when we know it’s not likely.
Make a point to see this movie, preferably late at night, with less than 5 people in the room. It will make you laugh at times, but it will get you in the end.
(**** out of *****)