Sinister is a 2012 serial killer/supernatural horror film. Directed by Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose) starring Ethan Hawke (Training Day, Assault on Precinct 13), Juliet Rylance and James Ransone. The film was produced by Jason Blum whose prolific credits include the Paranormal Activity and Insidious franchises.
The plot centres around washed up true crime writer Ellison Oswalt (Hawke) who has just moved his wife (Rylance) and two kids into a new house quickly revealed to be the scene of a grisly mass murder with the intention of writing a new book and regaining his fame and fortune. Once settled into the house Ellison discovers the most grim collection of home movies detailing a series of murders stretching back to the 1960s all linked together by a mysterious figure. Furthermore each case features a missing child not included in the ritualistic killings which ultimately turn out to be the doing of Baghuul, a pagan deity who eats children and is able to take them from this world into the netherworld. It then falls to Ellison to crack the case and figure out how to escape Baghuul before it's too late.
Sinister is very much a film of two halves and two styles, the gritty disturbing true crime serial killer film and the far fetched supernatural demon film. The first half is by far the strongest and the grainy snuff-like super 8 films that depicts the previous murders are the most terrifying, and therefore best, parts of the film. Cut this with Ellisons suspenseful night time patrols, armed usually with a baseball bat, and you have an extremely tense and atmospheric horror film. This is made all the more stronger by the excellent sound design, particularly in the super 8 films, where strange reversed voices and eery static combine with horrific imagery to create some of the most unsettling scenes in the history of horror.
The tipping point from this impeccable first half into the jarring supernatural second half is signalled by the clumsiest of exposition as Ellison's contact in the occult world professor Jonas frankly states "The symbol is associated with a Pagan deity named Bhaguul. He consumes the souls of human children". For me this deflated much of the fantastic tension built up in the first half and whilst it's never easy to combine realistic and supernatural elements I felt this element was simply too far fetched to gel with the tone of the rest of the film. Another drawback of the film is that Hawke, a fairly competent actor, is surrounded by terrible actors. Juliet Rylance's performance as Ellison's wife is shockingly cringe worthy and quite why she needed to be English I'm not sure as the accent made her sound all the more wooden and out of place in this film. The film also tries to shoehorn comic relief into the plot via "Deputy so and so" (Ransone) and falls flat every time, I appreciate the writers probably felt the film would benefit from some occasional light hearted banter but it just doesn't fit.
Every time I think about Sinister I have mixed feelings and have changed my mind back and forth a few times since the film was released. Is it an over hyped mess of styles that veers into the ridiculous one too many times? Or is it an intensely terrifying horror film that tries to do something different by creating an original horror character but loses control in it's third act? I feel more than anything that it was likely a horror film designed by committee and stumbled over it's own ambition, I'm reluctant to say that it completely wasted it's potential but with some personnel changes and a little restraint in the script it could have been an instant modern classic. As it stands Sinister is definitely a very scary film, an original property and one to watch on your own in the dark but when all is said and done it is unable to deliver on its own promises.
*** 3 Stars
What did you think of Sinister? Would you have changed any of the supernatural elements?