Directed By: Scott Derrickson
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, James Ransone, Clare Foley, Fred Dalton Thompson, Michael Hall D’Addario, Juliet Rylance
A horror movie can be a fun, campy scare. It can be a deeply disturbing scare. But it’s when you find that happy medium between the two that you end up with something that’s absolutely horrifying in the best way possible. Something you’re eager to think about well after the credits roll because it’s fun that it gives you the creeps.
Ellison (Ethan Hawke) is a true crime novelist who hit it big with a book called Kentucky Bloody, earning him a legion of fans and making him a household name. Trouble is, he hasn’t had a hit since. Desperate to keep himself from being a one hit wonder, Ellison drags his wife (Juliet Rylance) and two kids around the country trying to find a grizzly crime to make the focus of his next book.
Somewhat fed up after Ellison’s last failed attempt his wife agrees to move to a neighborhood in Pennsylvania where a family was brutally murdered, having been hung from a tree in their own backyard. Little does she know, Ellison didn’t just opt to move to a home in the area or even down the block; Ellison bought the house where the murders took place. Shortly after moving in, Ellison comes across a box in the attic containing five reels of film as well as a projector. To his horror and delight, he discovers that the films aren’t just memories left behind by a previous owner, rather the killer’s documentation of not only the infamous hangings, but four other brutal family murders, too. Ellison is sure he’s hit the jackpot and that this will in fact lead to his next big book, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that that happens, even if it means putting himself and his family at risk.
It’s easy to give someone the creeps or make their heart skip a beat with a jump scare, but “Sinister” takes it one step further, making the situation feel horrifyingly real. The five family murders are downright disturbing in and of themselves, but then the found footage technique puts you in the killer’s shoes, making them feel incredibly authentic and, in turn, especially terrifying. The film actually opens with the footage of the hanging, which plays out at a wonderful yet painstakingly slow pace, engraining the awful imagery in your mind and also giving you a sense of what you should be prepared for.
And if that’s not enough, then we get this concept of Bagul. There are a ton of creepy ghost and demon stories out there, but Bagul is one that’ll undoubtedly haunt you well after Sinster’s credits roll. The legend itself is quite off-putting and then the way he’s slowly revealed on screen makes him feel ever-present and even more threatening. There are a handful of suggestive plot points that spoil what should have made for a big twist, but the mechanics of the plot are still impressive, writer-director Scott Derrickson weaving the reality and the mythology beautifully.
Another rather impressive feat is that Derrickson accomplishes quite a bit without much dialogue and with a single character in the spotlight. James Ransone makes an impression as a keen yet unusual deputy and Michael Hall D’Addario proves he’s got a lot of potential as Ellison’s son Trevor, but “Sinister” is really Hawke’s movie. A significant amount of the story takes place in Ellison’s office where he’s all there is to connect to. Hawke does a stellar job at both keeping the material grounded and guiding the viewer through it. He’s figuring out all the details as the audience is and it’s his reactions that make the climax all the more powerful.
Bad horror films leave moviegoers with nightmares all the time, compelling you to quickly glance under your bed before calling it a night. However, in “Sinister’s” case, it’s much more than simply thinking that something’s lurking around the corner. You’re not just listening for strange noises; you’re mulling over the mechanics of the story, fascinated yet appalled by how the details all come together and it’s that calculating viciousness that makes this story especially disturbing and, for the horror lover, an absolute thrill.