From the production team behind Paranormal Activity comes Sinister, easily one of the scariest films since Insidious (which was also produced by the same people). Less of a jump scare factory, Sinister makes its bones with legitimately scary sequences that are mostly reserved. Add to that a tangible family drama and the result is a full-bodied, entirely creepy and moody thriller. Not for the faint of heart, this film has succeeded in impressing some of the harshest horror fans, many of whom call Fantastic Fest home.
Ethan Hawke stars as Ellison, father, husband and famous crime novel author. Modeled similar to Capote’s work with “In Cold Blood”, Ellison is a true-crime writer who, as an observer outside the law, evaluates crimes that the police have been unable to solve or put right. That kind of infamy doesn’t sit too well with the local law enforcement officers, who haven’t exactly rolled out the red carpet as he moves his family into their new home. Ellison has an odd way of working. When he writes, he likes to be close to the scene of the crime. In this case he is living in the same house where the family was murdered, and little by little Ellison realizes this was a bad move for his family. His desire to write another hit book nonetheless keeps him from giving up on the research. When he finds out he and his family’s lives are in danger, it’s too late to turn back on this road he’s started down as a deadly paranormal force edges closer.
Admittedly it’s very tough to scare audiences and further come up with something we’ve never seen before. Sinister tries its very best to succeed in both those aspects and does so smashingly. Written by C. Robert Cargill, Sinister does offer something new and the result is pure nightmare fuel. It’s a perfect combination of great acting, story, setting and effects; all of which are instrumental in building up the reveal of the the heavy in the film. A frightening new addition to the horror genre but also one based on the occult, Baghuul is a creature that can only exist by hearing the souls of children. He trick and traps them and uses them for his evil deeds and he ain’t messing around.
Hawke, who has never acted in a horror movie before, totally invests himself in the story and it helps that he’s given traumatizing found-footage to work off of. For something that’s this scary you do need some moments of, and his banter with the local deputy helps break the tension only seconds before it ramps right back up and then some. Jump scares are used very sparingly and director Scott Derrickson knows how to build suspense and Sinister is a win when it comes to atmosphere. Sinister was expected to be moody and eerie based on just the source material and the location (remember: dead family’s home) but there is some skin-crawling and unsettling (but really kind of cool) electronic music that takes this story to a whole new level.
It’s an experience to say the least as Derrickson knows just what to show and what not to. It’s that careful selective process that keeps us engaged without boring us or overdoing anything. Sounds like an obvious direction but it’s probably harder to pull off than people realize. In that respect you can totally applaud Derrickson and Cargill for the efforts. A solid fright flick Sinister fits right at home with the Fantastic Fest crowd and arrives perfectly timed for the Halloween season. Tons better than most of what passes for horror these days, so check it out when you can…just don’t watch it alone.