I sit down in the theater. A couple ads for other films roll on the screen. Some good. Some bad. Then, a hypnotic image flashes across the screen: A beautiful, foggy autumn morning. We see four people with bags over their heads and nooses around their necks – a father, mother, and two children. The nooses are draped over one branch and tied to another branch that is being sawed through from above by an unseen figure. The branch eventually snaps and as it falls the family is raised into the air, where they hang and die. It was then that I thought… “Damn… this Hotel Transylvaniamovie is harsh!”. All kidding aside (since there isn’t much kidding in this film), Sinister is certainly one of those films that will either completely suck you in with it’s opening shots, or you will walk out 45 seconds in.
After we are treated to the Super 8 snuff film, we are introduced to Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke), and his family. Ellison is a true crime writer, which of course makes him really popular with the local law enforcement. Problem is he hasn’t had a good book in a decade. His wife (Juliet Rylance) fears he is a one-hit wonder and the two bicker from time to time about his declining fame, to say nothing of finances. But he convinces her that his next book will put him back on the map and that the story will be huge. And he’s right… then he is wrong for the rest of the film.
She asks if they have just moved a couple houses away from where some horrible crime took place. He says no. He isn’t lying. They are living IN the house where a horrible crime took place. Before you can say poltergiest, Ellison comes across a box with a projector and some assorted super 8 film reels. They are marked innocently enough: Hanging Out, Sleepy Time, BBQ, Pool Party, and Lawn Work. He waits till everyone is asleep and starts what has to be the sickest movie marathon put on film. Turns out the titles are sadistic but comic descriptions of ritual murders. For example, Pool Party features a family being tied to lawn chairs and pulled one by one into the pool where they drown, BBQ shows another family being chained up inside their car and set on fire, etc. It is the scenes where Hawke subjects himself and the audience to these murders that the film really shines.
Ellison’s kids start acting weird. His son develops night terrors. His daughter starts painting morbid illustrations on the walls. And his wife begs and pleads him to move the family back home. He refuses to until he can crack the mystery of who the satanic videographer is. Especially when he catches a glimpse of the yellow faced figure in one of the videos. This figure is eventually revealed to be some kind of Babylonian Boogeyman but his origins are not important. The fact is that what makes the character so scary is the lack of info we are given on him… That and he looks like a f*cked up Willie Wonka (The screenwriter’s words. Not mine.)
“…the film becomes wildly scary”
From here on in, the film becomes wildly scary. Even the jumps scenes leave you disturbed. The images on the tapes (combined with Christopher Young’s Reznor-ish score) will not leave your mind after the film ends and nothing is certain or safe. Hawke is certainly the key performer in the picture. His facial expressions while watching the footage of the murders mirrors those of the audience so perfectly that we can forgive him when he constantly makes bad choices. The supporting actors fare well also, particularly Jason Ransone as a Barney Fife type deputy and the always stellar Vincent D’Onofrio as a professor who eventually is able to enlighten Ellison on who the mysterious figure in the tapes could be.
It has been four days since I saw the film and I still can’t get the eerie murder tapes out of my mind. One terrific jolt involving a lawn mower is worth the price of admission alone. The film also ends with a “Ringu” type twist that will disturb audiences to their core. As far as horror films go, there is usually only one or two really good ones each year. After watching Sinister, I can safely say there won’t be a better ghost story on film for a while. And that includes the God-Awful Paranormal Activity films. Please let this film and Insidious be the beginning of the return to kick-ass ghost stories! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
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