It opens with deathly and decidedly creepy home movie footage. Next, we see a seemingly carefree family move into a suburban house – a typical launch point for a supernatural horror tale. But rather than being clichéd and predictable, Sinister is something of a classic of its genre. It’s an old-fashioned mysterious yarn that uses the element of surprise – rather than blood – to scare the bejesus out of you (at one devilishly frightening moment, your correspondent actually gasped ‘f@%*’ a little louder than one should in public).
Sinister focuses on true crime writer Ellison Oswalt (a splendid Ethan Hawke). He had a bestseller called Kentucky Blood some 10 years ago and his career is at a dead end. But he senses another hit in the telling and unraveling of an unsolved crime involving the murder of a family – one where a child, Stephanie, remains missing.
The nuclear Oswalt family moves into the house that is the scene of the crime, where Ellison finds a box of home movies that have seemingly been placed there for him. The super 8 movies lead to more questions than answers about a series of mysterious deaths…
Sinister is dark – literally and figuratively. It takes places at night or in darkened rooms and the truth of the mystery is chillingly black. The thriller aspect is strengthened by an moody soundtrack, and a little light – just a slither here and there – appears in the amusing dialogue between Oswalt and the police deputy (James Ransone, The Wire), who acts as a sounding board for the writer (and moments of relief for the viewer).
Directed by Scott Derrickson (the well regarded The Exorcism Of Emily Rose and the disappointing remake The Day The Earth Stood Still), this is well plotted, atmospheric and thoroughly compelling. Sinister is near-timeless supernatural horror story. Without getting too nostalgic, it’s like seeing The Shining for the first time...
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