|Ethan Hawk gazes at a snuff film he's discovered in Sinister|
“Turn the light on… Just turn the light on…”
That’s what my girlfriend kept whispering at the screen as we watched Ethan Hawke explore his dark house while armed with a baseball bat in the new supernatural shocker, Sinister. How could anyone help but think this? Why did the set designer allow so many light-switches to be within reach of the film’s hero? Why don’t characters in horror movies do the rational thing and turn the light on? We all know the answer: It wouldn’t make the scene as scary.
Doesn’t it also drive you crazy in thrillers, when the desperate protagonist comes across an opportunity for vital information to their obsession, and they somehow fail to ask important questions? In this movie, the protagonist starts to learn that both of his children are getting visions and knowledge from the beyond (as he is) and he doesn’t seem interested in asking them more about what they know and how.
Sinister has many needless conventions to be expected in horror movies. They are the kind that can make you start to lose sympathy with the character in peril. But this movie is still scary… very scary. It is directed by Scott Derrickson, who made the eerie yet underwhelming, The Exorcism of Emily Rose and the crappy remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still. The screenplay is co-written by Ain’t It Cool News alum C. Robert Cargill (aka Massawyrm) who may be preserving the conventions I find annoying because he loves them. Regardless, the story to this film is successful at building its tension all the way to a beautifully designed climax.
It is about a true-crime writer who moves his family into a house without sharing with them his knowledge that a gruesome unsolved murder of a family took place there. It is his intent to write a book about the massacre with hope that he can find new evidence that could point the way to the killer and the missing child of the family who was not found among the dead. When exploring the attic, he discovers a box full of Super 8 home snuff movies of other family massacres dating back to the sixties and spanning all over the country. While horrified by this discovery he knows that it will guarantee him a bestseller and he begins to research their grainy footage. Analogue distortion is the number one tool for scaring our digital generation at the movies.
While regularly working late into the night, his findings become more and more terrifying. Then he starts to hear noises in the house leading to shocker moments that truly work. His sleepless nights and heavy drinking, in response to the unease of his new home, start to make his life fall apart.
Ethan Hawke plays the writer with a self-obsessed smug demeanor filled with pride for making discoveries where police investigations have failed. This gives him a bad reputation with law enforcement wherever he chooses to live. At the beginning he is given an unwelcome greeting by the local sheriff played by none other than Fred Dalton Thompson. Great casting! Seeing Hawke’s grungy liberal indifference to authority and Thompson’s stubborn old conservatism sharing the screen is perfect.
I think this movie makes the assumption that no one in their right mind would move into a place where such things happened. Am I sick to say that I might? I really don’t believe in the supernatural and I think it is a sin to leave a nice house vacant. Leaving it empty is just allowing a community to dwell on its tragedy. Give sad places love and new life. That’s my attitude. But I digress. We’re talking about the movies where in such places, evil may loom!
I love the movies for being able to make things I don’t believe in seem real. Once I’m watching, I get wrapped up in how things exist in the environment that has been created. Every strange element introduced plays a role and amounts to something in this movie’s logic. The filmmakers wisely have the majority of the movie take place at the house and don’t follow their characters going into town or anything of the sort for a long time. It really helps the movie maintain its scary atmosphere.
Sinister is a terrifically terrifying movie filled with predictable elements but surprising ones too. Overall, I was really creeped-out when it was over. I am catching up to this one a little late, but it is still October and not too late for anyone who loves horror movies to see this chiller in a dark movie theater.