AKA Not So Super 8.
Scott Derrickson is a hard man to pin down. On the one hand he’s the man who directed the pretty poor remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still (which, to be fair, was a remake of one of my favourite films of all time so I was unlkely to love it) but on the other hand he directed the solid The Exorcism Of Emily Rose. He co-wrote the painfully bad Urban Legends: Final Cut but then he also co-wrote and directed the superb Hellraiser: Inferno (perhaps the only sequel that’s almost on a par with the first two movies, even if I do have a soft spot for the third film). So when I saw that he was responsible for Sinister, a movie that had been on my radar since I first saw the super-spooky trailer, I wasn’t sure whether to hope for the best or brace myself for the worst. Well, thankfully, this is one of his good ones.
Ethan Hawke plays Ellison, a writer of true crime who often finds himself upsetting the police force while pleasing readers. Unfortunately, his big hit (a book entitled Kentucky Blood) was some time ago now and he wants some more fame, riches and glory. He starts work on another book but Ellison’s work methods usually involve moving near to a crime scene and immersing himself in the whole situation. This time he goes one step further. Unbeknownst to his wife and children (Juliet Rylance plays his wife and Clare Foley and Michael Hall D’Addario are the children), he has moved the whole family INTO the crime scene. Well, tecvhnically, the crime happened in the back garden but that’s going to be little consolation if/when the family finds out the truth. Anyway, things start to get seriously spooky when Ellison finds an old movie projector and some home movies in a box in the attic. The movies show a number of families being killed in different ways and a rather scary figure lurking somewhere in the background. Ellison finds himself drawn further and further into a mystery that he thinks he may solve until the situation soon flips around and he realises that he’d rather just forget everything he ever saw.
Sinister has some good moments of tension and creates an unsettling atmosphere from the very opening sequence (in which we get a look at some of that home movie footage before the main character does). There are quite a few jump scares but they are mixed in with a constant sense of unease and trepidation. This is all thanks to the direction from Derrickson and it’s helped by a script that he co-wrote with C. Robert Cargill. I’m not saying that the script couldn’t have been improved upon (Vincent D’Onofrio pops up, sadly, to be used as nothing more than Mr. Exposition) but there is a lot in there that works very well and when it focuses on just building up the scares it’s an outright winner.
With Ethan Hawke in the lead role you can expect some decent acting too. You get it. This may not be Hawke at his best but he’s very good as the writer who, having had his taste of fame once, just wants/needs “one more hit”. He’s drawn into the mystery and horror in a measured and almost-believable way and he gets a chance to show both the good and bad of his character. Juliet Rylance is okay as his suffering wife but the kids, Michael Hall D’addario and especially Clare Foley, get better material to work with. Fred Dalton Thompson is very good as the sheriff who doesn’t want Ellison in his county and James Ransone provides a very small amount of subtle comic relief as a deputy who is starstruck by Ellison and wouldn’t mind an autograph and maybe even the chance of an acknowledgment.
The film is a fun ride but it has its fair share of flaws too. Things tend to go bump in the night in a way that wakes up Ellison but nobody else at all. The other family members must either be taking some major sleeping pills or have the ability to block out all external noises while sleeping. I also have to admit that I spent a lot of the second half of the movie restraining myself from shouting at the main character to “just turn a bloody light on”. Many people may also be put off by the fact that there are a number of similiarities to Insidious (a movie that I loved). Personally, I think that a mainstream horror being compared favourably to Insidious is a good thing. Mind you, if you hated Insidious then I recommend still giving this a go because it also has enough differences, of course, to make it a movie that might please you more.
Given a 15 certificate here in the UK, Sinister is a fun horror movie to experience at the cinema and will have people jumping out of their seats then reassuring themselves that everything’s okay again . . . . . just in time for the next big scare to hit them.
I must end by warning viewers, and also Scott Derrickson and others involved with the film, that Sinister may be one of the many movies adversely affected by the ongoing scheme to have us all going gaga for 3D. I cannot by 100% sure but I feel that I should let you all know that Sinister is a dark movie, very dark in places, and I suspect that it was made even darker by some incorrect projection. What exactly am I on about. Well, there are many articles on the subject but I think it’s best to hand over to the man who has been most vocal about this for some time, Mr. Roger Ebert. His article here details some sad facts about incorrect projection habits that are becoming increasingly commonplace in our cinemas and I genuinely think that those involved with Sinister should maybe pop in to a handful of cinemas now and again and find out whether or not the movie is being ill-served by the venue.
Sinister will have UK audiences jumping out of their seats from the 5th October.
DIRECTOR: SCOTT DERRICKSON
WRITER: SCOTT DERRICKSON, C. ROBERT CARGILL
STARS: ETHAN HAWKE, VINCENT D’ONOFRIO, MICHAEL HALL D’ADDARIO, JAMES RANSONE, CLARE FOLEY, FRED DALTON THOMPSON, JULIET RYLANCE, NICHOLAS KING
RUNTIME: 110 MINS APPROX