Ever since I saw The Exorcism of Emily Rose I was waiting for Scott Derrickson to return to the horror genre. His 2008 venture into science fiction with The Day the Earth Stood Still was not so successful. Sinister is indeed a sinister and scary horror movie featuring a familiar story. It’s highly effective at generating this brooding atmosphere where you’re just waiting for something nasty to happen. This also means that the pacing is going to be a bit slower. The first thing you’re going to notice is the unusual soundtrack that’s creepy as fuck. Of course, the image of four people hanging from a tree with burlap sacks on their heads is also quite impactful.
Sinister follows a writer who, after losing his inspiration, retreats to a house that’s been a scene of a horrific crime. He’s hoping this move will get his creative juices flowing. And they will be flowing alright, overflowing that is with fear and dread. So, we have age-old tales of a writer with writer’s block and a creepy house, all very familiar horror genre tropes. All this movie is missing now are some evil entities. And don’t worry we’ll get them too. You would think that this predictable blend wouldn’t be enough to generate any scares.
And you would be wrong. In the hands of a talented writer and director, this is more than enough the scare the shit out of you. I don’t want to talk about the plot too much as it already contains so many familiar horror elements. However, I do want to talk about this suspension of belief Sinister elicits so effortlessly. You won’t even notice that your reality radar has been turned off when the first big twist smacks you in the face. The serious approach of everyone involved is crucial here. Not only have you got a writer and director who’s taking this seemingly stereotypical situation seriously but the cast gave it everything they’ve got as well.
You form a bond with the characters in the movie, not questioning whether something is possible but just waiting to see how the story is going to play out. I mean, who would in their right mind move to a house where a horrific murder happened? Moreover, who would bring their entire family along for the ride? Ellison Oswalt, a once highly popular writer now desperate for attention, that’s who. He’s played by Ethan Hawke who pops up every couple of years to show he’s still got it. And he seems to like these scary movies as his previous one was Daybreakers, a futuristic vampire extravaganza.
Sinister also features that juicy mainstream cinematography that I’ve come to appreciate so much in recent years. I just love how these modern horror movies look and feel. Probably because they remind me of all those early 2000s Dark Castle movies. This is something that apparently has nothing to do with the budget. I mean, the budget for this movie was just $3 million. Freaking $3 million and we get this creepy scare-fest. It just goes to show you that you can make a good movie without a lot of money and using old ideas. Speaking of that, this is definitely not a masterpiece.
As I’ve already mentioned, there are a couple of flaws both when it comes to the characters and the story in general. It feels a lot like James Wan’s Insidious or The Conjuring. Both of these mainstream horror movies make use of elements we’ve seen a thousand times before. And yet these elements are combined in such a way they produce one hell of an experience.
Director: Scott Derrickson
Writers: Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, Fred Dalton Thompson, James Ransone, Michael Hall D’Addario
Fun Facts: While they were filming the scene where the family members hang themselves, the stunt coordinator rigged the ropes wrong causing the stuntmen to be actually choking when the tree fell. The rest of the people on set soon realized that something is wrong and stopped the filming and fired the stunt coordinator.