I was lucky enough to catch Sinister at this year’s Film4 Frightfest in London back in August. Present for the European premiere that night was screenwriter C. Robert Cargill, a published author in his own right and a film critic (who once found himself on the receiving end of Kevin Smith’s infamous wrath). I must admit I wasn’t particularly looking forward to the movie – it seemed like another generic Hollywood ‘horror’ movie, with a mid-level star and the promise of about twenty sequels to come. Cargill, however, managed to charm me with his introduction before the credits rolled. He was ‘one of us’, he claimed; tired of being insulted as a horror fan by countless crappy horror movies that simply didn’t elicit any scares. So I put my cynicism aside for the time being, and settled in to enjoy Sinister…
Ok, so on the surface Sinister looks like everything I was giving out about in the first paragraph. Indeed, the trailer doesn’t do much to sell it either. I am happy to say though that I was pleasantly surprised with the finished product. Considering I sat through a whole weekend of horror movies designed to scare, I can honestly say Sinister got the most jumps out of me from the whole festival. It had a proper rollercoaster effect on the audience, gasping and squirming the whole way through the film only to explode with applause at the end, partly out of enjoyment of the film and partly as a self-congratulatory ‘we made it through’ acknowledgement. Sinister is designed to scare, and goddamn it it works. This isn’t subtle, get-under-your-skin horror, or the brooding psychological mind games of more complex horror movies. This is simple dumb fun. And boy is it fun.
Ethan Hawke is perfectly cast here as the washed up true crime author Ellison Oswalt, struggling to recapture the success he had as a fledgling writer. On discovering a box of home movies in his attic, Oswalt’s natural curiosity as a crime writer draws him deeper and deeper into the weird things contained within these seemingly innocent film reels. Hawke plays this somewhat unlikeable protagonist perfectly, and it is his increasing obsession with unravelling the mystery of these movies while simultaneously putting his own family at increasing risk that makes him a hard character to sympathise with. I think credit is also due to James Ransone (a.k.a Ziggy Sobotka from season 2 of The Wire) who turns up as a bumbling local deputy. Ransone offers some welcome comic relief throughout, and it is here that Cargill’s sharp writing comes through. Other than that it’s pretty much cheap jump scares throughout. I can unashamedly admit to closing my eyes at the signposted scariest bits. That’s Sinister in a nutshell – it ain’t smart but it certainly is effective. Yes, you can see the scares coming a mile off, but that doesn’t dilute them at all. It’s a great, fun film that feels like it enjoys playing with Hollwood convention as to what kind of movie it should be (the ending included). There are no pretty girls running scared through dark houses here. The necessary backstory is literally telephoned (well, Skyped) in by Vincent D’Onofrio to make way for more scares from a bad guy that looks like an outcast from Slipknot. All said though, if you’re after some cheap thrills this Halloween then I wholehearted recommend checking out Sinister
7 inevitable sequels/10