Director: Scott Derrickson
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Juliet Rylance, Fred Dalton Thompson, James Ransone
Running Time: 110 mins
Synopsis: Ellison Oswald’s (Hawke) family move into a house where the previous inhabitants were killed or reported missing in mysterious circumstances. A true crime writer, Oswald sees it as his calling to unearth details the police sometimes overlook, but he soon regrets his interfering when a box of Super 8 films in his attic draw him into a world from which he may not escape.
Scott Derrickson is fast becoming a trusted name amongst horror fans. He has already impressed with THE LAST EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE, SINISTER has been very well received on the whole, and he has been snapped up to take the helm for the upcoming paranormal police thriller, BEWARE THE NIGHT. If he carries on championing and innovating new horror the way he is, he may be one of the few who can rescue the genre, from the ocean of bland despair it has been slowly sinking into for the last couple of decades.
Although the basic premise for SINISTER is a tired one, the writers, C. Robert Cargill and Derrickson, do a terrific job of breathing new life into it. A writer who moves into a new house becomes increasingly drawn into his research on the property’s dark history, while neglecting his family in the process. This template can be placed over many past horror narratives, however, this is just about the only familiar trope you’ll find in the story, which is otherwise distinctly cunning.
The momentum builds, as does the intensity of the shocks, because the precise origin and reason for the horror is kept from you until the climax. This mysterious concept allows even more suspense to build because, as we all know, the most frightening aspect of human existence is the unknown. Red herrings are also expertly crafted and woven into the plot seamlessly, in another effective method of forcing a barrier between the audience and the truth.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the film is the believability of the characters, which is another massive issue to plague modern horror. The Oswald family are introduced properly, and have real personalities and relationships with one another. They are not unfathomably attractive teenagers with no brain activity, who exclusively waffle on about sport, fashion and the prom in between rampant sex sessions and fighting. This helps the audience to care about them more, which, in turn, creates more of an emotional attachment, therefore adding an extra layer to the audience’s fear when one of them is in danger.
SINISTER is a rich horror film, which succeeds where most fail, and it boasts Ethan Hawke in an unusual role choice. The accelerating pace, natural dialogue and relatable characters engage the audience initially, before the narrative kicks in to overdrive, and viciously thrusts you into a world of metaphorical pain and anguish. Ignore that understandable gut instinct to avoid modern hollywood horror, and take a chance. You won’t regret it.