Sinister ReviewJoe Shaffer
Author Ellison Oswald (Ethan Hawke) is washed up. He had his moment in the sun, but his quick rise to fame fizzled out thanks to controversy. Desperate for another true crime best seller, the man moves his family into a murder house where an unknown assailant once slayed a family of four. That's not all. One child from the family wasn't numbered among the dead and was since reported missing. In Ellison's mind, writing about and solving this murder--not to mention locating the missing girl--will put his career back on track. Of course, there are a few small hangups. For starters, he didn't inform his family that they had moved into a murder house. Worse than that, the mastermind of the murder is still in the house.
...and it isn't human.
Sinister begins with a somewhat familiar premise. Let's face it: it's basically The Amityville Horror, only with a true crime writer as the protagonist. However, it's not the story that a film tells that matters, but how it's told. In that respect, Sinister kicks off with a strong narrative. The film wisely veils the particulars about Ellison's situation and the nature of the antagonist, slowly revealing them through a collection of mysterious Super 8 movies that Ellison finds in his attic.
One after another, we watch the movies along with Ellison as they play out in a faux found-footage style. In each reel we see a family happily sharing an afternoon together, unaware that they are being filmed. Their happiness eventually comes to an abrupt halt as they find themselves detained, just before someone off-screen kills them in a variety of methods: hanging, throat-slashing, and cremation to name a few.
Each method is different, but the effect is much the same. They were all so realistically terrifying and depressing that they kept me watching, if only so I could know what kind of monster could commit such atrocities.
It's funny that the first half of the movie held up so well. I thought for sure that I had stumbled upon a diamond in Hollywood's horror rough. I was surprised to see a widely distributed film that utilized psychological scares and eschewed cliches as much as possible. Because of that, I looked forward to the downward spiral of Ellison's sanity and the possibility of a taut build to the final act.
Unfortunately the second half of the film didn't hold up so well...
After we discover the nature of the villain, the movie shifts from a cerebral scarefest to a by-the-books haunted house flick. Rather than properly utilizing its grim atmosphere to create more psychological frights, Sinister descends into a collection of hackneyed jump scares and tired imagery. The movie constantly barrages us with visions of sallow, ethereal children or instances in which the film's antagonist, Bughuul, pops out of the side of the screen and growls at the camera. It's enough that the film loses the creepy tension it once built and begins to feel more like a cheap carnival ride than a horror story.
Worse yet are the cheesy makeup effects used for the ghostly children and Bughuul. The makeup for the children looks store-bought and seems almost carelessly applied. As a result, the children don't appear creepy in the least, and look more like a preteen clique who wandered onto the movie set while trick-or-treating. Bughuul, on the other hand, doesn't look so bad. I will say that it's great that the studio decided to go with practical effects rather than completely render the being in lousy CGI. My only complaint is that Bughuul lacks imagination. Don't believe me? Think about it. He's a sharply dressed spiritual entity who lacks certain facial features and kidnaps children. Sound familiar?
Fortunately, Sinister manages to pack an explosive conclusion into its storyline. Unfortunately, the film's lackluster middle damages the ending's effect. Personally, I didn't care anymore by that point. It wasn't so much that I didn't feel for the characters, but that the middle's scares were so tame that I didn't feel as engaged in the film by the time I reached its conclusion. Ultimately, Sinister is just above middling. It's a worthwhile watch for anyone who can look past the overabundance of lame ooga-booga scares, but those who have been there and done that might not be as impressed.
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