**** (out of 5)
October 12, 2012
Ethan Hawke as ELLISON
Juliet Rylance as TRACY
Fred Thompson as SHERIFF
James Ransone as DEPUTY
Michael Hall D’Addario as TREVOR
Clare Foley as ASHLEY
Directed by: Scott Derrickson
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Horror movies can be tricky, especially today with so many options out there. In the last decade, we’ve seen an explosion of gimmick horror films in America with the somewhat limited new genres of torture porn, J-horror found footage. Torture porn has gone the way of real-life torture (in that it’s gone from the mainstream but still exists in many forms) and J-horror quickly ran its course when it was revealed the imagery was new to Americans but frighteningly homogeneous when lumped together. The only remaining gimmick right now is found footage, and hopefully that will be dying a similar death.
Horror has to find a new way to reinvent itself. We are starting to see that happen.
Recently, I’ve seen a trend that actually gives me faith in the genre. That trend is making movies like last year’s “Insidious” and the new film “Sinister.”
This trend hasn’t quite formed yet, and while it tends to play off haunting experiences, it has greater possibilities. It has elements of the 70s, including creepy children and real crime. However, it also features strong supernatural elements, often finding inspiration in ancient demons. What’s more appealing about this new genre is that it either uses full practical effects in lieu of elaborate CGI, or using limited CGI to simply enhance practicals.
As I watched “Sinister,” I felt like I was looking into the past a bit. There were cinematic techniques that made it feel retro, and this just wasn’t because of the use of Super 8 film clips. It’s an intimate story, and while it discards the annoying problems with found footage like shakycam cinematography and the mock documentary feel, it still feels extremely voyeuristic.
The movie tells the story of a true crime writer named Ellison Oswald (Ethan Hawke), who has moved into a new house with his wife and two kids so he can work on a new book a murdered family. The catch is he has moved into the very home where the murders took place. One day, he finds a box of Super 8 movies in the attic. When he looks at the footage, he is shocked to discover it documents the stalking and execution of a group of families, including the ones he is investigating. As Ellison examines the footage further and does research, he uncovers disturbing and demonic connections among the victims.
Like “Insidious,” “Sinister” uses aggressively dark cinematography. This gets a little silly and forced at times, making me wonder why the family just doesn’t buy some light bulbs an used them. After all, if I lived in a murder house, I’d have 100-watt bulbs in every socket burning day and night.
But that’s all for effect. Any good horror movie has to feature characters that do silly and sometimes downright stupid things, or the movie would be five minutes long. Hawke’s character is game to be that patsy, but director Scott Derrickson manages to make his motivations and actions understandable and not too dim-witted.
“Sinister” mixes a lot of horror elements together, including creepy children, demons, true crime, serial killing and the good, old fashioned jump-scare. It’s not exactly a movie that’s going to make you lose sleep (and honestly, what horror movie really does that to the true horror fan), but it’s a hell of a fun ride.
For one, I welcome this new genre of restrained filmmaking that relies less on overt gore or found footage to make things work. “Sinister” taps into the psychological terror that has been missing from a lot of modern horror movies.