Thursday 11 October 2012


Yes, Sinister

Sinister 2012 UK 
Directed by Scott Derrickson
Playing at UK cinemas now

Warning: Sinister spoilers lurking at the edges of the frame.

You know, horror movies can be a lot like a conjuring trick.

I’ve touched on this before in my recent review of The Possession (here) but I think  it’s worth exploring again now because Sinister has some of the same problems which that picture had.

I think it would be true to say that a lot of contemporary horror movies tend to rely on a creepy atmosphere conveyed by lurking and wandering in dark places, usually alone and with the (attempted) surprise/shock tactic of having the source of the on-screen protagonist’s terror suddenly coming to light within the frame... often accompanied by a visceral musical stinger. But it’s all very much a matter of sleight of hand. Most people know when the shock jump is going to happen because, as I’ve said before, the rules of the horror film are really easy to pick up on. You know the first expected shock is just, in almost all cases still, a red herring. Like a cat jumping out or, in this particular movie’s case, a scorpion at one point and a snake at another. It’s not until the creepy music starts to calm down or, as in this film at one point, stops altogether, that the real shock jump is going to come.

I watched this movie because I believe in Ethan Hawke as an actor. He’s a talented guy who you know you’re always going to believe. He even makes the half-witted-to-even-attempt-it ‘reimagining’ of John Carpenter’s classic Assault On Precinct 13 look good. He’s someone I can trust to sell any concept to me and so, when I saw he was making a horror movie, I figured I was in for a really scary time because if Hawke looks like he believes what’s going, I’m probably going to buy into it too.

And it’s true. His acting is superb here, as always, and I can say that the tension is solidly ratcheted up to 11 all the way through this one... well, okay, most of the way through. Even so, I was still quite distracted by a lot of stuff in this movie where I could sadly see ‘the conjurer’s hands’, so to speak, right in the foreground of the viewing experience. Which is a shame because I really liked another horror movie put together by the same director a few years back... The Exorcism Of Emily Rose.

Ok... so here are my slight problems with this movie, in no particular order.

First up is... Ethan never turns on the lights. Even when he’s working he just has little side lights on. The house is mostly plunged in darkness (that’s okay, his family are asleep when he’s working in his room at nights) but, even so, his room is portrayed in a constant state of darkness, and with the amount of aprehension he exhibits because of the unusual situation he finds himself in, there’s no way somebody would go and explore the things he does alone, let alone not turn the lights on while he’s doing it. Being in the dark is fine... you need that for a good horror movie to work... but these days audiences need a reason and when there are constant light sources around, people are going to start feeling that the characters on screen are just a little silly in the head.

Secondly, the film starts off being a serial killer film, but then turns supernatural half way through. This is fine but the ritualised trappings of the supernatural mystery at the heart of this are fairly easy to unravel. When Ethan’s young son starts doing some scary sleepwalking stuff, you will already have figured out he’s just a red herring to divert everyone’s gaze away from where the real danger lays. This makes the ending, which is the weakest thing about this movie, a little obvious and, when you do assume they’re going to do something really clever at the end... and then don’t... you might find yourself very disappointed at the culmination of all the events at this movie’s denouement. I know I did.

Thirdly, the films hook to the supernatural starts when the main protagonist finds a box of Super 8 films in the attic of the “previous crime scene” home he moves into. To lend dramatic weight to the proceedings, Ethan looks at each new film at a suitable interval apart so that each murder can be slowly revealed to the audience at a time when it lends more frightening gravitas to the movie as a whole. To which I say... absolute rubbish! There’s no way a person is going to wait what is effectively a day or two before watching each five minute movie and go about his day to day in the meantime. Seriously, anyone with half a brain, especially when finding themselves in the same situation that this guy does, would gobble all those movies down in one hit... just to preserve their own sanity, if nothing else.

So yeah. There’s some really weak stuff in this movie and it did kind of wreck a lot of it for me, to be honest. Once you have the ground rules established for the mystery surrounding the murders, you’ll realise straight away that the main protagonist’s escape route is actually a bee line for his own peril. Frankly, though, you might be so distracted by the fact that the main protagonist has missed the obvious next link of the puzzle himself (especially when he practically says it out loud earlier on in the movie) that you might be stunned enough by this that you’ll forget what’s going to happen next. Unlikely though, to be honest.

But... having said all that, the film is shot with enough taste that the scary parts do tend to have a long, drawn out sense of suspenseful tension to them and some sequences where some dead kids are running around the house in slow motion, playing cat and mouse and always keeping just out of the main protagonists eyeline, are quite eerie and well done. There’s a certain sense of surrealistic lethargy to them which makes for a really special few minutes of movie watching.

The music is interesting too. Composed by Christopher Young, a modern master of thriller and horror scores (amongst other genres) who really doesn’t get enough high profile work, this score defies what I expected from this composer and goes into a sensory, electronically tinged realm which is closer in some ways to the early works of John Carpenter than it is to Young’s regular style. At least, judging from the scores I have of his. He also provides some interesting musical texture to each of the silent Super 8 films, by lending them a touch of otherworldliness which is completely unique to each clip we are shown, with reference to either the date of when each film was supposed to have been shot, or with deference to the theme of each gruesome killing. It’s still a very subtle score, that much I would expect from this particular composer... but like I said, it’s certainly very different to anything else I’ve personally heard him do. It’s effective enough in the film, of course, and that’s what counts. Can’t wait for my first decontextualised listen of this one.

And that’s about all I’ve got for you on this movie, I’m afraid.

So... Sinister. Scary but dumb. Interesting hook/premise which lets itself down somewhat throughout the course of the movie. Well acted with some eerie atmospheres and excellent musical support but ultimately something I probably wouldn’t watch again, although I’m glad I’ve seen it the once because I suspect it’s something people may look back to in the future. Ideal for teenagers who are just getting into horror movies. An interesting but less satisfying cinematic meal, perhaps, for more seasoned genre fans.


  1. Good review. Not as terrifying as I would have liked it to be, but still a pretty freaky movie that builds and builds up to a pretty intense ending.

    1. Hi there.

      Sorry for the delay in responding. Been pretty busy.

      As you know from the above, I thought the ending was much less intense than it could have been. Would have liked a little more intelligence in the movie (which I honestly thoiught I was going to get, seeing as Ethan Hawke is in it).

      Thanks for reading.