Review: Sinister

Starring Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, Vincent D’Onofrio

Directed by Scott Derrickson

Out: 5 October 2012 (UK), 12 October (US)

True crime author Ellison Osborne (Ethan Hawke) moves his family (unbeknownst to his wife and kids) into a house where a terrible crime has taken place…

The ‘found footage’ film is well past its sell-by date, but still directors persevere with it. Sinister is a superior example of the form, as it works the ‘found footage’—a box of Super 8 home movies found in an attic in a house where a tragedy has occurred—into a traditional ‘haunted house’ narrative.

Hawke holds the centre of the film as a fraying at the edges true crime writer whose biggest success is 10 years in his past. Attempting to keep his family together, he’s hoping by moving into the scene of a weird crime (four family members hung from a tree in the backyard, the fifth—a young girl—missing) he can strike it big once more with a new true crime book.

He begins watching the uncovered family home movies, hoping for an insight into what happened, only to discover something much more… well, sinister. The short films contain actual footage of murders being committed, and not just the immediate case, but four others stretching back decades to the 1960s. Could Osborne have stumbled across the work of an undetected serial killer that might bring him fame and fortune once more, or is something more supernatural at work?

Sinister hedges its bets for much of the slightly overlong running time, but finally opts for an all-out supernatural explanation, with the last 20 minutes ramming home the fact. There’s a lot that’s conventional here, but it is so well put together, it makes for a series of enjoyable scares.

This is a mostly restrained (although there are a few jump moments) horror film that is as much a character piece about an unravelling writer and his relationships as it is about ghosts and demons. It plays with the effect of watching gruesome horror can have on the viewer, and displays something of Berberian Sound Studio’s love for analogue technology in its detailed attention to the task of threading up a Super 8 film projector.

This is a return to subtle horror for director Scott Derrickson, who followed The Exorcism of Emily Rose with the big budget misfire remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still. It is clearly a field he has a flair for and perhaps should stick to…

Verdict: Best enjoyed with little foreknowledge, Sinister offers satisfying scares. 7/10

Brian J. Robb


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