I chose Sinister this week over Paranormal Activity 4 and Alex Cross because the “real” movie critics (the ones who get to see things before they’re out) have been using words like “scariest movie of the year” to describe it. It’s really hard to scare me these days – I’ve seen so many horror movies that I’ve gotten too good at figuring out what will happen. Plot-wise, Sinister seems like more of the same.
A true crime writer moves into a former crime scene and discovers that the family who were killed there may be part of a series of supernatural murders.
And I was right. It was predictable, at least in terms of the plot. There were no surprises there. But what did surprise me was how tense they managed to make it anyway – and how startling and horrifying the reveals were when they finally came. So as a horror movie, it’s definitely got the horror part right.
The plot of Sinister is as old as time itself. Ellison (Ethan Hawke) is an ambitious, reality-grounded true crime writer who decides it would be a good idea to move his wife Tracy (Juliet Rylance) and kids Trevor and Ashley (Michael Hall D’Addario and Clare Foley) into a house where a family was recently murdered, despite advice and warnings from the local sheriff (Fred Dalton Thompson). This turns out to be a bad idea.
Welcome to the neighborhood, Ellison!
Soon after moving in, Ellison finds a box of old videos in the attic. He watches them, discovers that they’re tapes of five different murders of six different families from 1966 to 2011 in which the entire family is horrifically murdered except for one child who subsequently went missing. Quickly realizing that they have been left behind for him by the killer, Ellison does not phone the police and hand them over but watches them obsessively late at night looking for “clues.” (Read: creeping himself out.)
OMG, if I stand over here, it’s like I’M getting hung too!
While working late at night, Ellison starts hearing creepy noises, which he investigates alone bearing a baseball bat and a cell phone flashlight rather than turning on the lights and asking his wife if she heard anything.
Oh well, at least he’s not in his underwear.
This seems a little sexist at first (surely we’re beyond the point where women need to be shielded from late night noises by their big strapping husbands). That’s just until you think about it, though. And then it seems REALLY sexist, because then you’re realize that the wife is only in the movie so there can be someone to yell that this all Ellison’s fault when the kids start having nightmares and painting creepy sh** on the walls.
WIFE: That’s it! I’m taking the kids and going to my sister’s!
HUSBAND: Good idea. Then maybe she’ll be serial murdered too.
At this point Ellison stops investigating and starts going crazy. The investigation part is taken over by a local deputy (James Ransone) who works off-screen so Ellison can stare at creepy pictures of a boogeyman all day and be called up and the last possible second with important information. This will make him realize something scary is about to happen to him just before something scary happens to him but not in enough time to do anything about it.
DEPUTY: Hey Ellison! I just found this book that says you’re completely fu**ed!
It gets to the point where you almost feel he would deserve it if something bad were to happen to him. I won’t say whether it does or not, but I will say that the ending is totally and completely predictable and annoying. Just once I would like to see an ending that was not this ending. The only thing you can possible get out of it is two dubiously useful life lessons:
1) Don’t watch movies.
2) Don’t have kids.
And especially don’t have girls.
So Sinister is predictable and clichéd. Ellison has no survival instincts, is not a very good investigator, and has a cardboard family. This makes Sinister a bad horror movie, right? Wrong. All the bad plotting and characterization in the world could not have stopped me from jumping nine feet into the air and flailing my arms like a baby T-Rex, because most of the time you can’t tell when the scare is coming, only that it is… probably. Sometime soon…
OH JESUS GOD ON UNICYCLE, DID THAT THING ON THE SCREEN JUST MOVE?!
The trick is that director Scott Derrickson has shot the movie in such a way as to leave lots of room in the frame for something creepy to appear in the background. Usually when a movie switches to this type of shot, we expect something to appear. But because these types of shots are used often without anything showing up, you can’t predict when something is coming. Hence the T-Rex affect.
It’s just some treeAHHHHHHH! WTF IS THAT?!
So if you enjoy sitting in a dark theater and having a series of small adrenaline-induced heart attacks, Sinister will give you that. Therefore I recommend that you see if before implementing Sinister Life Lesson #1 and staying away from all recorded images forever.