Scott Derickson’s somewhat effective shocker The Exorcism of Emily Rose was held together by some clever characterization and an extremely talented cast. Skipping over his wacky remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still (for the better) we arrive at his latest and best effort by miles, the thematically burdened but supremely atmospheric Sinister. Weaving between Hideo Nakata’s The Ring and various found footage genre films this tense piece of film making succeeds on atmosphere and performance rather than (sadly) plot and (admirably) gore.
True crime writer Ellison Osborne (Ethan Hawke), struggling to rekindle a hit novel, moves his family into a house containing a terrible secret. His idea is to investigate the grizzly murder of one family behind his own family’s back and put pen to paper on his very own In Cold Blood. The family have been through this all too many times and with no help from the local law authorities due to Osborne’s infamous Police bashing and tension between the sloppily dressed writer and his wife (Juliet Rylance) he decides the dark of his study and a bottle of whiskey is how he will cope.
As this is a film born of classic horror there is of course, the small matter of checking the attic, an expedition in which he discovers a box of super 8 films containing a library of filmed murders including the one he is investigating in the house in which he is writing. Staying up increasingly late into the Pennsylvania night Osborne is soon consumed by the films horrific images or are they consuming him? Cue spooky music, painted faces in the bushes and many many things that go bump in the night.
Derickson seems to have found his feet with Sinister. It quite can’t be grouped in with the found footage fad which seems to still be bothering modern film makers and it couldn’t be considered on par with The Ring’s brain searing finale but with Hawke on great form and a brilliant, original pulsing score by Christopher Young it delivers many terrifying moments with nothing more than lighting and editing. Using the medium of Super8 is a great move by Derickson and it’s this careful investigation of the voodoo of the analogue, organic magic of film, the horror of Sinister is at it’s best.
It is true that once the mystery of the film is pieced together (like most horror investigations) the terror subsides, trying far too hard to give us a heart pounding climax, turning it’s back on looking at the strangeness of film as a “true” document and as a living thing to become something a little bit silly and a tad too supernatural for its tone. But as a haunted house film it is wonderfully paced, surprisingly and refreshingly bloodless, filled with atmospheric dread and acted beyond it’s script by Hawke and Rylance who add a rarely seen dimension to families in the horror genre.
It’s not The Shinning (despite its many nods) but as a wire tight shocker with many images which will stay with you late into lonely nights at home it’s one of the best horror films of the year simply because it does a notoriously dirty job with style.
neil @ projectorreview.tumblr.com/