Haunted house stories make for the most common horror movies nowadays. Let’s face it, when things go bump in the night it’s scarier. Meanwhile, serial killer/slasher flicks can seem repetitive. The new film "Sinister" marries the two subgenres to create a creepy tale with a promising setup, but ultimately falters when it comes to the final pay off.
True crime novelist Ellison Oswalt has begun working on his latest book, a novel about a family of five that was murdered, except for one of the daughters that has been missing ever since. To research the crime, Ellison has moved his family (without, of course, telling them) into the house that served as the scene of the crime. As he begins to research the events that occurred, Ellison finds a box of home movies that not only shows the family’s murder, but also other found footage films with other families meeting similar fates. Before long, the horror that he is watching onscreen begins to seep into his own life and he is left in a race against time to solve the puzzle pieces before his family becomes the latest home video in the collection.
With this initial setup, the film shows promise by introducing the world to the new movie villain Bughuul, a name that means ’eater of the children.’ He’s like Freddy Krueger for a new generation, except he can get you while you’re awake. There’s plenty of creepiness to his story, which includes killing everyone in a family except for the one child that he takes with him. Adding to the creepiness is the fact that he does surveillance on the victims and then records the murders.
Director and co-writer Scott Derrickson accomplishes a feat that most horror films fail miserably; "Sinister" is a horror movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously while not diluting the horror elements. In addition to an overly eager and slightly clueless Deputy, the film finds itself with a more perverse sense of humor when it comes to dealing with the recorded murders. Each of the home movies has a title, innocently named things like "Hanging Around," "BBQ," and "Sleepy Time." These end up being tongue-in-cheek titles relating to how the victims are eventually killed. Despite a lack of gore, these murders are more unsettling than your usual run of the mill horror movie deaths. One of the home movies contains one of the most wince-inducing scenes in recent memory.
Derrickson is able to create an atmospheric and creepy feel throughout his film. But where he flounders is with the payoff. The director has mastered the art of suspicious camera angles that leave the audience on the edge of their seats waiting for something to appear in the background. While it’s refreshing that the film mostly stays away from using cheap scares to get the audience, there is a sense of just waiting for something to happen. As the film crawls towards the third act things really begin to fall apart. With lapses in common sense to ghosts that inexplicably start running around the house, it feels as though the writers weren’t sure how to finish the film properly and just threw their hands in the air.
The film mostly takes place inside the house that the Oswalt family moves into at the beginning of the film. Even when Ellison is doing his research he speaks to people via Skype and gets regular visits from the local Deputy. Never leaving the house, it is easy to see how Ellison might begin to slip away from reality. While his feeling of isolation is effectively conveyed, the audience will also begin to get a sense of their own claustrophobia before too long.
"Sinister" commits the cardinal sin of horror movies. The film is creepy and atmospheric, but it isn’t able to cross the threshold into being scary. It has a killer setup that leaves the audience waiting for the other shoe to drop. But when it hasn’t dropped by the time the final credits roll, the trick ends up being on the viewers.
Ellison :: Ethan Hawke
Prof. Jonas :: Vincent D'Onofrio
Deputy :: James Ransone
Sheriff :: Fred Thompson
Ashley :: Clare Foley
Tracy :: Juliet Rylance
Trevor :: Michael D'Addario
Stephanie :: Victoria Leigh
Mr. Boogie :: Nicholas King
EMT :: Rob Riley
Anchor :: Tavis Smiley
Reporter :: Janet Zappala
Executive Producer, Scott Derrickson; Screenwriter, C. Cargill; Producer, Jason Blum; Producer, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones; Executive Producer, Charles Layton; Cinematographer, Chris Norr; Film Editor, édéric Thoraval; Original Music, Christopher Young; Production Design, David Brisbin; Production Design, John Manahi; Set Decoration, Sarah Dennis; Costume Designer, Abby O'Sullivan; Casting, Sheila Jaffe; Casting, Ruth Salen.