October 14, 2012

Movie Review: Sinister

Sinister is not a movie I knew a whole lot about when I went into that theater. I saw all manner of banners and ads around the web. I figured it was just going to be another straight to video or limited theatrical release jobs that pop up from time to time. To be honest, I was actually surprised when I saw it listed as a wide opening theatrical release this weekend. I guess this will teach me for not paying attention. On any case, the movie is here and it is actually really good. And I mean really good.

Sinister is a movie that has a straightforward narrative, but is constructed with a high level of skill to keep you involved. Director Scott Derrickson has made a movie that is edge of your seat unsettling that never lets the atmosphere of dread dissipate. Right from the sequence leading into the title right through to the final moments, the tale weighs on you. I am struggling to find the right words. I am not trying to build the hype for it, but it really is worth positive word and buzz. I would put it in a similar class with Insidious, another creepy horror movie that I love.

Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) is a true crime writer who saw success some years before with an exposé on a botched police investigation. Since then, he has found little follow up success and while slightly humbled, he is still proud. As the movie opens, he has moved his wife and kids into a home whose previous owners were murdered. They were hung from a tree in the backyard, but one of the children was still missing and presumed dead. This is the story that Ellison is now working on. Oh yeah, he hasn't told his wife or kids the history of their new home.

Anyway, soon after getting his office set up, he finds a box in the attic. The box has a projector and reels of Super8 film with labels like "lawn care" and "BBQ '79." He starts to watch the films, at first the footage seems innocuous enough, but the end reveals a gruesome murder. This discovery awakens something inside Ellison and he begins to dig deeper and deeper. At the same time he starts hearing things around the house, noises in the attic and the like.

Sinister is a movie that starts by nibbling around the edges of a person's psyche before pulling out the jackhammer and going for gold. It is a found footage movie where it is the character in the film finding the footage. It is rather ingenious in that regard, a twist on the usual idea of the found footage movie.

It is the sort of movie that should not be spoiled in a review. It is a movie that should be experienced on the screen. You should sit in that theater and feel the claustrophobic dread close in on you in the darkness. Is it a perfect movie? No, however it gets a lot right and is just so darn effective. It just works. Once you are on board, and that did not take long for me, you are trapped in the nightmare.

Ethan Hawke gives a strong central performance. He embodies this writer and all his faults. Ellison is not a hero character, he is caught between family and career, he may have a drinking problem, and he let's the story get in his head. Now this is one of those elements I found fascinating about the movie, the idea of the true crime writer. It is not something I had ever thought about before, but getting in that mindset, exposing yourself to some downright grisly information has to take a toll on someone. The reality of the crimes Ellison sees paired with the actual craziness adds all sort of atmosphere.

Sinister was co-written by director Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill and they really made something special here. Creepy, filled with dread, scary, and fresh. I am not sure what else to say about it without giving things away.

It is great to watch a movie that is legitimately creepy and is not a remake or sequel. This movie taps into some deep, dark places and doesn't let up. Just sit there and enjoy. Just watch your back for Mr. Boogie.

Highly Recommended.

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